Prep Football

Cedar Rapids Prairie's single-wing offense feels natural in year 5

Hawks will run up more yards in Coach Mark Bliss' system

Brothers Keegan (left) and Colton Staab during an inter-squad varsity scrimmage at Cedar Rapids Prairie High School in southwest Cedar Rapids , Iowa, on Friday, Aug. 16, 2019. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Brothers Keegan (left) and Colton Staab during an inter-squad varsity scrimmage at Cedar Rapids Prairie High School in southwest Cedar Rapids , Iowa, on Friday, Aug. 16, 2019. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Twin brothers Colton and Keegan Staab have played on the same football team since second grade.

For the past four years, the seniors have learned the intricacies and complexities of the single-wing offense, which Coach Mark Bliss brought to Cedar Rapids Prairie in 2015.

As the Prairie Hawks begin year five under Bliss, the players know the offense nearly as well as the coaches.

“The grade below us has been running it for five years, we have been running for five years,” Colton Staab said. “We have got everything in the head now, so we just come out here in the summer, polish it up and make it look real pretty on Friday nights.”

Prairie’s first Friday night of 2019 arrives Aug. 30 with a non-district contest against crosstown rival Cedar Rapids Washington at John Wall Field. This will be the fourth year in a row the Hawks and Warriors have opened the season against each other, with Prairie winning the last two.

“Just good energy,” Colton Staab said. “Come out, do what we know we can do. Do what we have been practicing all summer long. Just come out and lay the wood.”

Colton Staab is a 6-foot-4, 280-pound offensive tackle and a Division II Minnesota State-Mankato recruit. Keegan Staab is 6-2, 225 and has thrived in a tight end-fullback hybrid role. The fraternal twins are Prairie captains.

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“We butt heads a little bit,” Keegan Staab said with a laugh. “But we are brothers at the end of the day.”

The Staab brothers will be counted on to keep the Prairie offense productive behind a new starting quarterback. Another team captain, Nick Freel, and fellow senior Hunter Williams are battling for the job in camp. The 5-9 Freel is a threat to run or throw, while at 6-foot, Williams can fling it around pretty well.

“We have been running this offense for many years now,” Freel said. “It is kind of just hopping back into the saddle.”

Bliss has not ruled out the possibility of the two quarterbacks splitting time during the season.

“They both have done an exceptional job this summer,” said Bliss, who posted a 28-13 record in his first four years at Prairie. “And done a nice job in 7-on-7 this summer, so those are the two guys that are sort of the front-runners. ... We’re going to try to utilize our strengths the best we can if I don’t screw them up too bad.”

Bliss and the Hawks also have been charged with replacing the immense production of tailback Keegan Simmons, who totaled 3,847 rushing yards over his junior and senior seasons, setting the single-season school rushing record each time.

Senior Tariq Amir Cook, who ran for 804 yards at 9.6 per carry and five touchdowns last season, is the next in line.

“It is a good gimmick offense,” Colton Staab said. “No matter what running back you are going to run, he is going to get a lot of yards. Same goal this year for the front five up front. We want Tariq to break the record just as bad as we did Keegan. It is all about winning games.”

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Senior receiver Johnny Joens (254 receiving yards, two TDs last season) is an experienced pass-catcher, while 6-7, 230-pound sophomore tight end Gabe Burkle is a likely breakthrough performer that is already on the radar of Division I schools.

The Prairie defense is led by 6-3, 200-pound senior defensive end Ashton Stoner-Degroot, who posted 14.5 tackles, 2.5 for loss and 1.5 sacks last season.

At linebacker, Freel is the returner with the highest number of tackles from last season (27), while the Prairie secondary is loaded with experience with Amir Cook, Joens and Feysal Abdi at cornerback, plus Williams, Brody Joens and Tristin Wilcox at safety.

All are seniors.

“We have pretty high-intensity practices,” said Keegan Staab, who could also see the field as an interior linebacker. “I would imagine we would be able to stop what is coming at us.”

With some area schools struggling with the level of football participation, Prairie has 162 players in grades 9-12, the highest number in Bliss’ five seasons.

“I’m really pleased there,” Bliss said. “It is a testament to our kids and the parents and wanting to allow their kids an opportunity to invest themselves in our program.”

Cedar Rapids Prairie Hawks

Coach: Mark Bliss (5th season, 28-13 at Prairie, 187-70 overall record)

Last year: 7-3, lost in first round of Class 4A playoffs

Top returners: RB Tariq Amir Cook, LB/RB Nick Freel, WR Johnny Joens, C Jack Halvorson, OT Colton Staab, TE Keegan Staab, DE Ashton Stoner-Degroot, OG Will Thalacker

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Keys to making the playoffs: The Hawks will need to find the right quarterback-running back combination to keep Bliss’ single-wing offense humming.

Games to watch: Sept. 25 vs. Cedar Rapids Kennedy, Oct. 25 at Cedar Falls.

Schedule

Aug. 30 — Cedar Rapids Washington

Sept. 6 — at Pleasant Valley

Sept. 13 — at No. 3 Waukee

Sept. 20 — No. 9 Cedar Rapids Kennedy

Sept. 27 — at Dubuque Senior

Oct. 4 — Dubuque Wahlert

Oct. 11 — Cedar Rapids Jefferson

Oct. 18 — at Waterloo West

Oct. 25 — at No. 3 Cedar Falls

l Comments: douglas.miles@thegazette.com

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