CEDAR RAPIDS — They don’t keep score in preseason practice. That one controlled scrimmage against another school doesn’t mean anything.
But still you can use those as a springboard into the regular season. At least that’s what they hope at Cedar Rapids Washington.
“The kids have been putting time in in the summer,” said third-year head coach Maurice Blue. “We like where we are at right now. But that’s without a punch being thrown at you. So we’ll see.”
Everyone you talked in Warrior-land the first week of practice mentioned how this team is ahead of last year’s team in just about everything. Washington went 4-5 in 2018, ending a string of five consecutive Class 4A playoff appearances.
There aren’t many of them around, as Wash will have about 40 kids on the varsity team. Low numbers have caused the school to combine its freshman and sophomore programs as well.
But there is optimism that this could be a good season. A winning season.
“I don’t know if it’s because of the returning seniors coming back and having more knowledge and putting it together to help coach the other guys. Last year, I feel like we had a lack of leadership on the field,” said senior linebacker-fullback Josh Bliss. “Or maybe it’s just the guys coming back having more of a mentality of ‘Hey, let’s get this done. I don’t want to be bad. I want to be good.’”
Bliss wasn’t bad last season. Actually, he was pretty good defensively, finishing second on the team in tackles, first in solo tackles, tackles for loss and sacks.
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Junior defensive back Justin Scherrman and senior linemen Jamar Thurmon are the other returning guys on defense who ranked top 10 on the team in tackles last season.
“I would say I was pleased with last season but not satisfied,” Bliss said. “I feel like more of the plays are starting to click more. It just feels so slow on the field this year. The gaps are opening up, things like that. Everything is clearer, clear as water.”
Junior Henry Clymer will be Washington’s starting quarterback, the leader of an offense Blue believes will be able to throw effectively. Clymer was forced to come up from the sophomore team early last season because of an injury to graduated starter Braydon Wright and completed 44 of 78 passes for 680 yards and five touchdowns.
“I was nervous that first game,” Clymer said, with a smile. “I’m not going to lie.”
But he said he feels infinitely more comfortable going into this season, adding he worked over the summer with Wash grad and former NFL receiver Dedric Ward on his skills.
“I think that has helped me out,” Clymer said.
Blue said he expects seniors Carter Bell and Trent Strom to step up and have strong seasons at receiver. Washington graduated its main running backs and has only one returning starter up front in senior Josh Gilbert.
“I think we’ll be able to throw it a little bit,” Blue said. “Henry Clymer started a handful of games for us last year, played in almost all of our games, and is a year better. He has looked pretty good throwing the ball, especially this last part of the summer. He has really started to pick it up throwing the ball.
“We’ve got some receivers. Carter Bell had a really good summer 7-on-7 wise. That’s both offensively and defensively. He’s got good speed, had a good track season and has the confidence to run by people.”
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Washington starts its season against what should be another good Cedar Rapids Prairie team. The Hawks and their deceptive single-wing offense always are a tough preparation. The Class 4A District 5 favorite is Cedar Rapids Kennedy.
Traditional power Bettendorf also is in the district.
“We’ll be young. Not a lot of seniors. We’ve got about 17 of them, I think,” Blue said. “They are all going to find ways to contribute, one way or the other. They haven’t had a lot of success their sophomore and junior years, but they’ve been practicing a lot better. We have not had to waste a lot of time getting on guys for not hustling and stuff like that.”
“It’s about coming together as a team and having our scout team step it up and give us actual looks,” Bliss said. “We have a problem with bodies, don’t have enough numbers, so the guys that are here, they have to be good to help us ... If we can get that, if we can continue to put in the work in the weight room like we are right now, then I do think we have a chance to have a positive record.”
Cedar Rapids Washington Warriors
Coach: Maurice Blue (3rd year at Washington, 9-10)
Last year: 4-5
Top returners: QB Henry Clymer, LB/FB Josh Bliss, WR/DB Justin Scherrman, DL/TE Jamar Thurmon, WR/DB Trent Strom, OL/DL Josh Gilbert, WR/DB Carter Bell, RB/S LayC Tucker.
Key to making the playoffs: Beat someone you maybe aren’t supposed to beat (Prairie, Bettendorf, Kennedy). Have confidence, as junior and senior classes haven’t had a ton of prior success. Stay healthy, because there are only around 40 players.
Games to watch: The opener against what should be another good Cedar Rapids Prairie team. The back-to-back-to-back stretch of Bettendorf, Kennedy and Davenport Central in late September/early October.
Aug. 30 — at Cedar Rapids Prairie
Sept. 5 — Dubuque Hempstead
Sept. 13 — at Dubuque Senior
Sept. 20 — Cedar Rapids Jefferson
Sept. 27 — No. 8 Bettendorf
Oct. 4 — at No. 9 Cedar Rapids Kennedy
Oct. 10 — Davenport Central
Oct. 18 — at Burlington
Oct. 25 — at Davenport West
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