INDEPENDENCE — Two years ago, the Independence football team learned some hard but valuable lessons.
An 0-9 season in which the Mustangs were shut out six times, scored just 29 points and lost by an average of over 36 per contest was a difficult indoctrination to varsity football for many of this year’s seniors.
For the coaches and players who experienced that winless campaign, the early 2018 results have to serve as a sweet reward.
“The biggest thing is resiliency,” fifth-year Independence Coach Justin Putz said. “Go back to the year that we went 0-9. That’s not fun for anybody. Not fun for players, it’s not fun for coaches, it’s not fun for fans. It’s a tough year, and those kids are sophomores. That’s their first year of dressing varsity, our current seniors, and they didn’t get a chance to experience a win on a varsity Friday night, a chance to understand, ‘That’s why you work hard. That’s why you put the time in and that is what varsity football is all about.’”
Through the first three games this season, Independence (3-0) has averaged over 53 points per contest on offense, all resounding wins. On defense, no opponent has reached 20 points against the Mustangs, who posted a shutout of their own against South Tama in Week 2. The early success is another step for a program that started to reclaim its footing last season with victories in four of six contests, which halted an 11-game losing streak. The Mustangs finished last season 4-5, which placed them fourth in their six-team district.
“To see them bounce back last year and to see them come out and be leaders this year speaks to their resiliency and their toughness,” Putz said. “I couldn’t be prouder of that group.”
Independence is led by 5-foot-11 junior quarterback Logan Schmitt, an all-district performer last season who has passed for 621 yards, run for 225 and accounted for 14 total touchdowns against two interceptions through three games.
“One of the biggest jumps I feel like I’ve taken is the mental game,” Schmitt said. “Reading coverages, getting us into the right play, getting us into a better play.”
Of all his previous quarterbacks, Putz calls Schmitt, “the smartest kid I’ve ever coached.” On Friday, Schmitt threw for 296 yards and four TDs, plus a running score, in a 55-19 home win over Maquoketa. The other Independence offensive weapons include senior tailback Ethan Holt (317 yards, five TDs) and receivers Sean Geertsema and Brady Webb, who have each posted three TD receptions this season.
“I feel like we’re really, really versatile,” Schmitt said. “That’s one of the things I like. … If they load the box, then we can just go over the top and just dump it off to our receivers and let them make a play. If they start to spread us out and cover up our receivers, then we can run it right up the middle with Ethan. It’s just so nice because we have so many weapons.”
The Independence defense starts 10 juniors, plus senior outside linebacker Tristan Cordes. Middle linebacker Cole Davis leads the Mustangs with 19 ½ tackles, while defensive linemen Christian Kremer and Kaden Howard each have a pair of sacks.
“It’s been a real group effort,” Putz said. “I wouldn’t say there are stars on that side of the ball, just a bunch of guys who are doing their job and doing their job well.”
The schedule steps up a few notches in the coming weeks. Independence visits Center Point-Urbana (2-1) next Friday, then opens district play at home against Class 3A No. 4 West Delaware (2-1) on Sep. 21.
“One of the bigger keys is starting faster,” Schmitt said. “We’ve started out kind of slow in the first quarter, then second quarter we hit our stride. If we start out fast that first quarter, don’t give up a chance, that will be a lot easier.”
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