IOWA CITY — Strength in numbers. That’s the 2020 mantra at Iowa City High.
With participation dropping, the Little Hawks have endured a few lean years, including last season’s 2-7 mark. With a group of returning seniors and a strong influx of talent from their junior class, the Little Hawks are optimistic that their fortunes are poised to turn.
“Anything’s possible for us,” junior right guard-defensive tackle Ostyn Friday said. “This team, we’re working together. Part of the problem was the years before us, they had cut tackle football. (The juniors) were the first year back. So when we came back it was so big because everyone wanted to play football because the kids ahead of us didn’t get to play football.”
“Obviously we’ve got numbers now that look more like a 4A football team,” Coach Dan Sabers said. “We’re in the low to mid 40s most nights. So that feels really good, and we’ve got a group of kids who are juniors now and this is the first time that they’ve been together as a group since the eighth grade. We’ve had to mix and match because of number issues. Quite a few of them played varsity ball as sophomores and quite a few played sophomore ball as freshmen. Now they’re kind of like ‘hey, we’re back together.’”
An undermanned sophomore-heavy lineup spent last season taking its lumps. Hit particularly hard by a trend of thinning participation throughout the sport at the high school level, Sabers sees the beginnings of a resurgence.
“I think overall, the whole concussion thing is not in people’s minds as much as it used to be,” he said. “Because if they do any reading and pay attention at all they realize that football has done a lot to make the game safer. Coaches have done a lot, the state association has done a lot, athletic trainers have done a lot, and we’ve made the game a lot safer.
“I think the more we do that and the more people see it, people will actually start to come back because it is great for kids. No one has really come out and said the game, the team, the camaraderie, commitment, discipline, nobody ever argued that. They were just concerned about concussions.”
It isn’t just the numbers. The new-look Little Hawks look the part, too. Featuring good size up front on both sides of the ball, intriguing speed options at the skill positions and the return of senior quarterback Raph Hamilton, entering his third year as the starter, City High is a confident bunch heading into the 2020 season.
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Optimism tends to run high at the dawn of a season, but the Little Hawks have a strong camaraderie that has radiated throughout fall camp.
“It’s truly exciting,” linebacker Joe Bacon said. “I think we’re a lot further along than we were last year. We have a lot of people returning and it’s great to see everybody working hard.”
“We’re looking good,” linebacker Carter Seaton said. “We’re working together as a team. I think you’ll hear it from a lot of guys. It’s just different this year. There is a different mentality. Togetherness. And we’re all working together for one goal to win a bunch of games.”
Friday, along with twins Avery and Ethan Goodrich, will anchor an offensive line that should provide adequate protection for the 6-foot-4, 230 pound Hamilton to operate.
“Obviously when you have a three-year returning starter at quarterback, that’s always a positive,” Sabers said. “Big, strong kid. He’s throwing the ball excellent. Great decision-maker and those types of things, so we feel good about that.”
A strong and quick defense will look to give opposing offenses fits as the Little Hawks transition to more of a traditional Mississippi Valley Conference schedule.
City High will lean on its new-found depth as it faces rivals Iowa City West and Liberty and hosts heavyweights Cedar Rapids Prairie and Cedar Falls.
“Anything’s possible,” Seaton said. “I feel like the sky is the limit for this team. If we continue to work hard, I could see us going pretty far.”
Iowa City High, at a glance
Coach: Dan Sabers (20 years, 139-67)
Last year: 2-7
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Top returners: QB Raph Hamilton, TE/OLB Kolby Kucera, FB/LB Joe Bacon, WR/DB Jaboc Means, OT/DT Avery Goorich, OT/DT Ethan Goodrich, OG/DT Ostyn Friday, OT/DT Nolan Waters, RB/DE Darren Richardson, WR/DB Gabe Mitchell.
Aug. 28 — Davenport Central
Sept. 4 — at Iowa City West
Sept. 10 — at Cedar Rapids Washington
Sept. 18 — Cedar Rapids Prairie
Sept. 25 — Cedar Falls
Oct. 2 — at Linn-Mar
Oct, 9 — Iowa City Liberty