CEDAR RAPIDS — The Cedar Rapids Washington football team hears the doubters.
After three 10-plus win seasons in a row, including a berth in the 2014 state championship game, Washington posted a 5-5 record last season that ended with a blowout loss at Iowa City West in a Class 4A playoff opener. With roster numbers in the low 40s, some question whether the dip will get deeper.
“I feel like everybody is kind of counting us out right now,” Washington senior offensive lineman Ben LaGrange said. “Us having not a lot of numbers and coming out and showing that we’re still a powerhouse, too. ... We may not have 60, 70 guys on our team, but we’ve got some athletes. We work really hard and I think that this is really going to show everybody that we come to play.”
Washington is in a district that includes Kennedy, Bettendorf, Burlington, Davenport Central and Davenport West. It will open the season Thursday, Aug. 23 at home against Prairie, which finished 8-2 last season and edged the Warriors by a point in last year’s season opener.
“What they do offensively is unique and they are very good at it,” second-year Washington Coach Maurice Blue said. “On top of that, they’ve got some really good players coming back.”
The Warriors will introduce a new quarterback this season in 6-foot senior Braydon Wright, an athletic run-pass threat who played receiver last season before tearing the ACL in his left knee in the fourth game.
“I really like his versatility,” senior receiver Ross Snitker said. “He’s really athletic. ... He is one of our most athletic players, for sure. I think he is really good running and passing out of the attack. It is probably pretty hard to stop him.”
Six-foot-2, 190-pound junior Alex Glover is expected to carry the load at tailback. He ran for 83 yards and two touchdowns in spot duty last season behind 1,200-yard rusher Haven Henningsen.
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Snitker (team-high 30 receptions and 340 yards in 2017) and fellow senior Lincoln Riley (19 receptions, 268 yards, team-high three TDs) — teammates since third grade — give Wright a couple of experienced receiving targets.
“It takes a lot of weight off my shoulders with guys I know I can trust outside,” Wright said. “I’ve been working with them for the past two years, so I know how they’re going to run their routes, where they’re going to be.”
As the only returner on the offensive line, LaGrange will anchor a unit that seeks to replace a pair of Division I recruits in tackle Nolan Potter (Northern Illinois) and guard Andrew Todd (Miami (Ohio)). Senior J.C. Foote will play guard opposite LaGrange, junior Josh Gilbert is the likely pick at center while Prairie transfer Jack Werner and 6-5 senior Tavius Sykora-Matthess will occupy the tackle positions.
“I feel like having a really small team is something that brings us all together,” LaGrange said. “Not a lot of guys around. We just really interact a lot. I wouldn’t say having a small team is bad by any means, meaning that we really need to interact with each other a lot. It’s more like a family rather than a brotherhood.”
Before becoming head coach of the Warriors before last season, Blue spent 19 years on staff as an assistant coach, which included 11 as defensive coordinator. This year, he will oversee the reconstruction of a Washington defensive unit that lost two D-linemen, three linebackers and a cornerback to graduation.
“Depth is not our friend this year,” Blue said.
LaGrange and Sykora-Matthess will bookend the defensive line, while Foote and senior Kaden Bowie lead the linebacker corps. Wright and senior Imanuel Rowland are likely fits at cornerback, while Snitker and Riley (40 tackles, three interceptions last season) bring their experience to the safety position.
For Riley, that entails keeping his teammates in position and communicating the on-field defensive play calls.
“I’m basically the captain and the driver of the boat,” said Riley, a free safety who also will punt. “Tell everyone where to go and I’ve got to make the correct call and if someone messes up, that’s on me. I’ve got to take responsibility for that, so it’s a big role.”
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After tearing an ACL during the 2017 boys’ soccer season, senior Bennett Cooper returns and will handle field goal duties.
Cedar Rapids Washington, at a glance
Coach: Maurice Blue (second season, 5-5)
Last year: 5-5, lost in first round of Class 4A playoffs
Top returners: OL Ben LeGrange, WR/DB Ross Snitker, WR/DB Brayden Wright, DL Jackson Foote, LB Mason Hatefield, DB/P Lincoln Riley, DB Immanuel Rowland
Key to making the playoffs: The Warriors will need to break in some new skill-position players during a non-district schedule that begins with Prairie and ends against Jefferson. Washington likely needs two wins in its first three district games — Sept. 21 at Bettendorf, Sep. 28 vs. Kennedy, Oct. 5 at Davenport Central — to earn a return trip to the playoffs barring a late-season upset.
Game to watch: Sept. 28 vs. Kennedy: This season, the crosstown rival becomes a district foe. With a state power like Bettendorf also inhabiting the district, the Kingston showdown may prove to be a playoff elimination game.
Aug 24 — Cedar Rapids Prairie
Aug 31 — at Dubuque Hempstead
Sept. 7 — Dubuque Senior
Sept. 14 — at Cedar Rapids Jefferson
Sept. 21 — at Bettendorf
Sept. 28 — Cedar Rapids Kennedy
Oct. 5 — at Davenport Central
Oct. 12 — Burlington
Oct. 19 — Davenport West
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