CEDAR RAPIDS — It’s not hubris. Not by any stretch.
These guys know they have a good football team. A real good football team.
They know nothing is given, that they have to play well. But they also know that if they do that ...
“We are really focused on one main goal,” Cedar Rapids Kennedy’s Cade Parker said. “Make it to the Dome and take home a state championship.”
So there it is, folks. It has been thrown out there.
Why pooh-pooh anything when you know what you’ve got?
What Kennedy has is 14 starters back from a 6-4, Class 4A playoff team last season. That includes an offensive lineman who committed to the University of Iowa over the summer (Connor Colby), a three-year starting linebacker headed to the University of South Dakota (Cade Parker) and a two-way lineman who has committed to FCS powerhouse North Dakota State (Nolan Jacobs).
Then there’s a three-year starting running back who holds an FCS offer (Cairron Hendred/Western Illinois), another linebacker who is the third-leading returning tackler in 4A (Jay Oostendorp) and a quick-footed quarterback who is really a running back but who improved his passing skills in the offseason (Max White).
Kennedy made it to the 4A state championship game in 2015 with guys like Shaun Beyer, Tyler Dralle and Dalles Jacobus. The comparisons to that team are obvious.
“I think that this team is probably more talented,” said head coach Brian White, Max’s dad. “Leadership wise, when you look at Beyer, Jacobus and Dralle, they provided it. What we are interested in right now here is guys who are interested in being leaders. Taking on that role of ‘Hey, follow me. I am going to show you the way.’
“The good thing for us is we have so many returning guys who have been through the battles that can take on that role.”
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Coach White couldn’t give an immediate answer when asked which side of the football he thought was better. He eventually said he really liked his defense right now.
Then, again, he’s a defensive guy at heart.
Brandtley Koske had five interceptions and returns at defensive back for the Cougars. White said he has three of the best linebackers he has coached at the school in Parker, Oostendorp and Shamariyon Graham.
“It’s really just a ball-hawking defense,” Parker said. “Everyone is flying to the ball and gang tackling. Stuff like that. We are gap based, but everybody plays football out there. We’ve got some really good guys, some playmakers out there.”
Team speed on offense is significant with Hendred and Max White, with the junior class filling in with needed help at the receiver position. Kennedy struggled throwing the football last season, which made it very one dimensional, but Coach White said his son spent a lot of time in the offseason working on the mechanics of throwing and is confident in his abilities there.
At worst, Max White is a threat to run and scramble for yards.
“Max has put in so much work this offseason,” Hendred said. “As far as technique and everything, he’s a good quarterback, and that’s going to take some of the pressure off me and the offense. Being able to throw the ball and run the ball ... We have a lot of guys we can get the ball to.”
Coach White said one of the biggest keys to accomplishing what Kennedy wants is to handle expectations. Some teams fold under that pressure, but this one is determined not to.
A non-district schedule that includes a rare, if not first, appearance at Kingston Stadium by West Des Moines Valley should prepare the Cougars for district foes like Cedar Rapids Prairie and Bettendorf.
“I talked to them (the other) night that they have done nothing. This group has won zero games. They haven’t beaten anyone, yet,” Coach White said. “One of the main things for us right now is making sure we understand there are expectations and how we need to handle the pressure. Do the little things that separate us from an average team into being a good team.”
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Cedar Rapids Kennedy Cougars
Coach: Brian White (5th year at Kennedy, 33-20)
Last year: 6-4, Lost in first round of Class 4A playoffs
Top returners: QB/DB Max White, LB Cade Parker, OL/DL Nolan Jacobs, RB Cairron Hendred, OL Connor Colby, LB Jay Oostendorp, DB Brandtley Koske, DB Makhi Harris, FB/LB Shamariyon Graham, OL Gavin Bascum, TE Cody Pflughaupt, LB C.J. Currie, K Conlin Byers, P Austin Vandersee
Key to making the playoffs: Stay healthy, find a bit of a passing game offensively, handle high expectations.
Games to watch: The non-district home game against perennial power West Des Moines Valley should be a beauty. Kennedy’s next game at Cedar Rapids Prairie also qualifies. Then there is the Oct. 11 home game against Bettendorf.
Aug. 30 — Cedar Rapids Jefferson
Sept. 6 — at Linn-Mar
Sept. 13 — No. 2 West Des Moines Valley
Sept. 20 — at Cedar Rapids Prairie
Sept. 27 — at Davenport West
Oct. 4 — Cedar Rapids Washington
Oct. 11 — No. 8 Bettendorf
Oct. 18 — at Davenport Central
Oct. 24 — Burlington
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