IOWA CITY — With the history and tradition surrounding football at Iowa City Regina, some might think there would be pressure on the 2018 edition of the Regals.
After winning six consecutive Class 1A state titles from 2010-2015, Regina has been defeated in the title game the past two seasons and returns just five full-time starters from last year’s 10-3 team.
So there’s pressure to get back to the top, right?
Not so, says Regal Coach Marv Cook.
“It’s great to have all of the history and tradition to build off of each year,” Cook said. “We look at each year as a new opportunity for each group of seniors to become leaders.
“We don’t put any additional pressure on ourselves because we haven’t won the title the last two years. We look at each year as a new opportunity.”
The Regals lost plenty of talented players from the 2017 team that dropped a 28-7 decision to Van Meter in the state title game, including quarterback/defensive back Michael Conlon, running back/linebacker Isaac Vollstedt and receiver Jacob Phillips.
One of the advantages of having a winning program is having the ability to reload quickly because many underclassmen get the opportunity to get on the field on a regular basis.
“We have a lot of guys who started 4-5 games but weren’t full-time starters,” Cook said. “We are fortunate that we are able to get a lot of guys on the field to gain experience and evaluate them.”
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Cook’s teams at Regina have been built around defense and this year should be no exception. Last year’s leading tackler, senior Nick Milder (5-foot-10, 180 pounds), returns at linebacker and also will see time at fullback. Other top returners include lineman Luke Stein (6-2, 220) receiver Patrick Clark (6-3, 190), receiver/linebacker Scott Arndt (6-2, 181) and receiver/defensive back Alec Wick (6-0, 162).
“At our level, we try to work to the strengths of our kids,” Cook said. “(Former Oklahoma Coach) Bob Stoops told me once that he always tried to put kids in a position to be successful and hide a weakness until you can work on it and make it a strength.”
It appears that a potential strength for the next three seasons could be the passing combination of Ashton Cook, the coach’s son, and Wick. Both 10th-graders saw plenty of action as freshman in 2017. Wick was the team’s second-leading receiver behind Phillips with 29 catches for 347 yards and two touchdowns.
The younger Cook got valuable experience backing up Conlon. He completed 46 of 73 passes for 640 yards and four touchdowns.
“Ashton got to play in the semis and the finals last year,” Coach Cook said of his son. “He had to come in and make some plays in a tough environment. I think that has made him hungry for more this season.”
One thing Cook likes about the makeup of this year’s team is its versatility.
“We have a bunch of multisport athletes out this season who have been very successful,” he said. “We have guys who can play multiple positions if needed. Our seniors are a fun group to be around and their leadership will play a huge role in the amount of success we have.”
The Regals have a glossy 134-12 record in Cook’s 12 seasons leading the program. They have never been a team to shy away from playing tough opponents. They open this season by hosting defending 3A state champion Cedar Rapids Xavier, then play at Anamosa against an up-and-coming 2A team. That’s followed by a home game with 1A state semifinalist Pella Christian and a road test with 2A semifinalist Williamsburg before opening 1A District 6 play.
“Our kids have always liked to be challenged,” Coach Cook said. “This year will be no exception. We will be playing some tough teams again.”
One difference will be the importance of the non-district games. In the recent past, only district games mattered when it came to making the playoffs. A change in format this year has wild card spots available for non-district winners.
“Of course, the goal is to win the district,” Coach Cook said. “If we wouldn’t win it, I think we would have to go 4-0 or 3-1 in non-district games to make the playoffs.”
Regina is in a district with East Marshall, South Hardin, North Linn and Dike-New Hartford. The district title could very well be decided in the final week of the regular season when Dike-New Hartford travels to Regina.
“Dike has been mentioned as a possible preseason No. 1-ranked team,” said Coach Cook. “There are a lot of new faces on our schedule and we are excited for the challenges they will present.”
Iowa City Regina, at a glance
Coach: Marv Cook (12th season, all at Regina, 134-12)
Last year: 10-3, District champion, Class 1A state runner-up
Top returners: OL/DL Luke Stein, WR Patrick Clark, LB/FB Nick Milder, WR/DB Alec Wick, WR/LB Scott Arndt, LB/RB Scott Blondin
Key to making the playoffs: Once again finding a way to replace a talented group of seniors and navigating another typical Regina schedule loaded with challenges.
Games to watch: Aug. 24 vs. Cedar Rapids Xavier: Hosting defending Class 3A state champion in opener. Sept. 14 at Williamsburg: A road test against a top contender the the 2A state title this season. Oct. 19 vs. Dike-New Hartford: Figures to be the game that decides the district championship.
Aug. 24 — Cedar Rapids Xavier
Aug. 31 — at Anamosa
Sept. 7 — Pella Christian
Sept. 14 — at Williamsburg
Sept. 21 — East Marshall
Sept. 28 — South Hardin
Oct. 5 — at North Linn
Oct. 12 — at Jesup
Oct. 19 — Dike-New Hartford