IOWA CITY — The sight of seven-on-seven drills and lectures revolving around the intricacies of the punt return are welcome distractions from the chaos that has been 2020. But for a proud Iowa City West football program coming off of a 4-5 2019 season, they are necessary stepping stones toward reclaiming its spot among the upper echelon of Class 4A.
Iowa City West, just three years removed from back-to-back appearances in the state championship game, is settling into what its program is following the exodus of students — and players — to the new Liberty High School. A veteran group is ready to seize their opportunity to elevate the program to previous heights.
“We understood what happened,” linebacker Dijon Genus said of the 2019 season. “There were a lot of errors. But we know now, as a team, we’re here to fix those errors. We’re ready to reload again.”
“It feels great,” wide receiver-defensive back Eric Torres said. “There’s other kids out there in states that aren’t even having a season right now. So we’re grateful for all of that.”
Genus and Torres are two of 17 players to return who started at least two games a season ago. The returners also include first-team all district performers in wide receiver-defensive back Graham Goering and linebacker-wide receiver Ian McAreavy.
“We do have guys that played a lot of snaps last year,” West head coach Garrett Hartwig said. “I think we’ve got good team speed overall from top to bottom. Experienced receivers and skill players. Our offensive line is working really well this year. They seem very cohesive this year compared to last year. Defensively, I don’t know how big we’re going to be, but I believe we’re going to put some good athletes on the field, and we’ll be very aggressive.”
That mix of talent will be driven forward by the return of three-year starter Marcus Morgan at quarterback. Morgan, a prospective Division-I athlete in football, basketball and baseball, first emerged onto the scene as a sophomore starting quarterback on a team that advanced to the state quarterfinals in 2018. The Trojans will lean heavily on Morgan’s experience and explosive play-making ability as they navigate a difficult seven-game slate.
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“He’s a sharp leader,” Genus said. “He leads our team well. He helps people out. That’s all we want from him.”
“Physically, when he started as a sophomore, he was around 165 pounds,” Hartwig said. “Now he’s up to 185. He posted some of the strongest numbers we had when we tested in the weight room during camp. His understanding of the game. I think the game slowed down for him quite a bit. Just the experience factor, you can’t replace it. His understanding of the offense and our schemes. He really trusts the guys around him.”
Also factoring into the mix are a few out-of-state transfers who have entered the program in search of action after their respective states declined to participate in a fall football season. Among them are skill position players Damarion Williams and Trey King Jr., who hail from Wisconsin. The Trojans have accepted them with open arms.
“They fit right in,” Genus said.
“They earned the respect of their teammates just through their work ethic,” Hartwig said. “And they’re also playmakers. At the end of the day, as a varsity program, we want to win. If they can help us win, they’re gonna be accepted, certainly.”
It’s all hands on deck with a challenging schedule ahead. The Trojans face three playoff qualifiers from last season. First on the docket, on Aug. 28, an anticipated first meeting with their old friends at Iowa City Liberty.
“Does Liberty add a little excitement to it? Possibly,” Hartwig said. “I’m sure our kids know some of their kids and vice versa, so the players might be a little bit more attuned to it. For me and my coaching staff, it’s about the season’s a process and this is step one. Everybody wants step one, so the intensity will be there, no matter what.”
Iowa City West, at a glance
Coach: Garrett Hartwig (7 years, 46-23)
Last year: 4-5
Top returners: OL/DL Ben Alden, DL/RB Mason Applegate, OL/DL Liam Becher, DB/RB Tyuss Bell, DB/RB Fabian Brown, OL/DL Joey Chase, WR/DB Mikey Crutcher, LB Dijon Genus, WR/DB Grahm Goering, LB/TE Kalen Haworth, LB/WR Ian McAreavy, TE/DE Alex McKay, QB/P Marcus Morgan, K Owen Smith, OL/DL Fred Syata, TE/OL Aiden Terrill, WR/DB Eric Torres.
Aug. 28 — at Iowa City Liberty
Sept. 4 — Iowa City High
Sept. 11 — at Waterloo West
Sept. 18 — Dubuque Hempstead
Sept. 25 — at Cedar Rapids Jefferson
Oct. 1 — at Dubuque Senior
Oct. 9 — Cedar Rapids Kennedy