Prep Football

Cedar Rapids Prairie should have a powerful 1-2 punch on offense

Keegan Simmons and Jace Andregg will power the Hawks

Cedar Rapids Prairie’s Keegan Simmons carries the ball during a football camp at Prairie High School in Cedar Rapids on Monday, July 30, 2018. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
Cedar Rapids Prairie’s Keegan Simmons carries the ball during a football camp at Prairie High School in Cedar Rapids on Monday, July 30, 2018. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
/

CEDAR RAPIDS — Cedar Rapids Prairie’s offense already wreaks havoc on opposing defenses.

Prairie boasts the third-best leading rusher in Class 4A from a year ago in senior Keegan Simmons and has upstart wide receiver Jace Andregg, whose athleticism has garnered the attention of NCAA Division I programs.

Expect an expansion in play calling and things to be tougher on foes who try to stop Hawks Coach Mark Bliss’ single-wing attack.

“Coach Bliss said we should be able to open up the playbook a lot,” Simmons said. “With one of our top receivers, Jace Andregg, he’ll be able to do some things this year, as well as a couple other players. We have a lot of stuff we can do with this team.”

The Hawks have been to the playoffs in each of Bliss’ three seasons and will attempt to improve on last year’s 8-2 mark. Prairie opens the season Thursday, Aug. 23 against Cedar Rapids Washington at Kingston Stadium.

The Hawks return six starters on both sides of the ball, including Simmons and Andregg. Simmons rushed for 1,822 yards and 25 touchdowns, carrying the ball 247 times last season. Andregg hauled in a team-high 15 passes, averaging almost eight yards per reception, and added 129 yards on the ground.

“For us to do what we need to do offensively, they have to be a key factor,” Bliss said. “There is no question.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

“We have a returning quarterback with Izaak Lindgren, so we have our backfield back.”

Simmons burst on the scene in last year’s season-opener, rushing for the majority of his 138 yards in the second half of a 21-20 victory over the Warriors. He was off and running, setting a single-season rushing record, surpassing the mark of 1,518 set by Joe Meyer in 2016.

The 6-foot-2, 185-pounder focused on improving two specific areas. He wanted to be a more disciplined downhill runner and have better vision for running lanes.

“One big thing is going north and south and always going forward when I’m running the ball,” said Simmons, who wants to reset his single-season yards mark and the school’s career touchdowns mark. “The second was reading my blocks better. There were too many times I’d try opening my own hole and it would be jammed. I left more yards on the field.”

Bliss has witnessed growth off the field, which is equally beneficial for the Hawks. Simmons has developed into a leader and has been a staple in the weight room since offseason lifting began last November.

“The two biggest keys I’ve noticed about him are his maturity level has increased immensely and he’s taken a lot of ownership in this team,” Bliss said. “His leadership has been very invaluable to the direction we need to take and he’s done a phenomenal job.

“The work he’s put in the weight room since last Thanksgiving, I hope, will pay dividends for him on the field, because he’s a lot bigger and stronger than he was this time last year.”

Andregg should be a strong complement to Simmons. Last season, Andregg didn’t touch the ball the first three weeks, getting thrust into the lineup when Levi Usher suffered a season-ending broken leg. He was untested but embraced the opportunity.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

Thank you for signing up for our e-newsletter!

You should start receiving the e-newsletters within a couple days.

“I took that as a challenge and did the best I could last year to fulfill what he was able to do,” Andregg said. “I think it went pretty well.”

Andregg did well filling the void left by Usher, and also performed well at the summer camps and clinics circuit, appearing on recruiters’ radars. Now, Andregg is starting this season as an expected playmaker. He has the same mentality he has had for every other season.

“My whole life I’ve basically played a skill position,” Andregg said. “I’ve been used to having the ball in my hands and trying to make plays for the team.”

Bliss was quick to note talented skill players are as good as the blockers in front of them. He happens to be high on that group, which includes all-district and all-Metro offensive tackle Kaleb West.

“We’ve got about seven guys we’re taking a solid look at,” Bliss said. “We’ll see who will be starters. The other two guys also will play a factor.

“We have a little depth that we have not had since I’ve been here.”

Like the offense, the Hawks defense returns six starters, including Logan LaGrange, who had 68 tackles, four sacks and three forced fumbles.

“We have a good nucleus of guys,” Bliss said. “We have a couple returning (defensive) linemen and a pretty good athletic sophomore class that are juniors this year. We think some of those guys could step in and maintain where we think we can be defensively and hopefully compete with the teams we have on our schedule.”

Cedar Rapids Prairie, at a glance

Coach: Mark Bliss (4th year, 21-10; 23rd overall, 180-67)

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

Last year: 8-2 (Class 4A District 8 runner-up, lost in first round of playoffs)

Top returners: RB Keegan Simmons, RB/LB Tyler Graham, OL/DL Kaleb West, OL/DL Gavin Ozmun, WR/DB Armon Pledge, RB/LB Logan LaGrange, WR/LB Jace Andregg, OL/DL Jack Halverson, QB/DB Izzak Lindgren, RB/LB Zach Swart

Key to making the playoffs: The Hawks will need to be solid in the trenches, allowing skill players like Keegan Simmons and Jace Andregg to make big plays on offense and stopping the run on defense.

Games to watch: Non-district games against Pleasant Valley and Waukee will be good gauges for the Hawks. The biggest game will be Week 9, hosting Cedar Falls with a district title likely on the line.

Schedule

Aug. 23 — at Cedar Rapids Washington

Aug. 31 — Pleasant Valley

Sept. 7 — Waukee

Sept. 13 — at Cedar Rapids Kennedy

Sept. 21 — Dubuque Senior

Sept. 28 — at Dubuque Hempstead

Oct. 5 — at Cedar Rapids Jefferson

Oct. 12 — Waterloo West

Oct. 19 — Cedar Falls

l Comments: (319) 368-8679; kj.pilcher@thegazette.com

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.

CONTINUE READING

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.