IOWA CITY — In a season of change for the Iowa City West football program, the goal remains the same.
Over the past three seasons, Coach Garrett Hartwig has been blessed with talented and large senior classes.
For 2019, the look will be decidedly different.
“We’ve graduated three straight classes with 32 or more seniors,” Hartwig said. “This year, it’s a very different situation. Our senior class has gone from 30-plus players to the 18 we have out right now. This is the first senior class to experience a complete split from Liberty High School.
“It’s a smaller class, but it is a group we’ve had together since they were freshmen. They’re great players and great boys. It’s just the ebb and flow of high school football. Our junior class has 28 players and we’re happy with that. We care about these boys and we’re really looking forward to the season.”
When Liberty opened in the fall of 2017, students who were at West could remain there through the end of the 2019 school year, even if they lived within the Liberty boundaries.
Now things are different.
The roster numbers may be down, but there is plenty of talent returning from last year’s 9-2 team that lost to Bettendorf in the Class 4A quarterfinals.
Heading that list is junior all-state quarterback Marcus Morgan. The 6-foot-2, 175-pounder took over the position on a full-time basis midway through his sophomore season and the West offense took off. He completed 107 of 199 passes for 1,875 yards and 15 touchdowns and ran for another 376 yards and two scores.
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Morgan, who already holds a football scholarship offer from Iowa State, is a four-sport performer for the Trojans.
“Marcus is an excellent player and had an excellent sophomore year,” Hartwig said. “He’s a multisport athlete and he has competed at the highest level in the state basketball tournament, Drake Relays in track and the state baseball tournament.
“One thing we can’t give Marcus as coaches is experience in big moments and he had some of that with us last year. He’s been tested under the spotlight and he’s been supported by a lot of guys. He’s certainly not alone out there, but the position Marcus plays is quarterback and it is a natural position of leadership. He does a great job with that.”
Senior Tate Crane likely will be Morgan’s top receiving target. A starter in all 11 games as a junior, Crane had 27 receptions for 326 yards and three TDs. The defense will be led by a pair of returning all-district picks, senior linebacker Will Hoeft and senior defensive back Grant Henderson.
“These guys are tremendous football players,” Hartwig said. “They have all worked hard during the summer and have been good leaders for this young group.”
In past seasons, Hartwig used multiple players at multiple positions. Even though he has a smaller roster, the philosophy hasn’t changed much.
“We will try and put players in the best situation possible,” he said. “We’ve got multiple players at every position. The key for us will be to find the 11 best for any given situation as it has always been.
“The exciting thing is that we have players who can play in a lot of different spots. You may see a player line up as a receiver on one play and a tight end on the next play. We’ve built some good depth over the summer and we’ll see what happens (as the season gets closer).”
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One positive fallout from a smaller roster has been the realization among the players that everybody will have to play a role.
“In years past we’ve had some guys who probably didn’t get as much playing time as they would have liked,” Hartwig said. “This year, we’ve got to develop everybody. In a way, it actually makes practice more efficient and exciting. Even if they are not a starter, there’s a good chance they will get a chance to contribute at some point during the season.”
Hartwig sees Pleasant Valley as the early favorite in District 4.
“I think our first (district) game out of the chute against Pleasant Valley will be tough,” he said. “They have a great team. I also think Linn-Mar will be much better this year, especially after they way they closed last year.”
West, ranked sixth in the Gazette/KGYM preseason poll, opens the 2019 season on Aug. 30 at North Scott.
Iowa City West Trojans
Coach: Garrett Hartwig (6th year, 43-18)
Last year: 9-2, Class 4A quarterfinalist
Top returners: QB/DB Marcus Morgan, WR/DB Tate Crane, TE/DB Grant Henderson, FB/LB Will Hoeft, RB Marchaun Hoover, TE Alex McKay
Key to making playoffs: Adjusting to working with a smaller roster after three straight seasons of having 32 or more seniors on the team. Junior Marcus Morgan may have to be even more amazing than he was at the close of last season and keeping him healthy will be a big key for West.
Games to watch: West’s hopes of defending its district title could hinge on the District 4 opener at Pleasant Valley on Sept. 27. The Spartans have a solid team coming back and are considered by many to be the preseason choice to win the title. Of course the Battle for the Boot in the regular-season finale against City High is always a big game in Iowa City, no matter the teams’ records.
Aug. 30 — at 3A No. 5 North Scott
Sept. 6 — No. 8 Bettendorf
Sept. 13 — at Southeast Polk
Sept. 20 — Dubuque Senior
Sept. 27 — at Pleasant Valley
Oct. 4 — Linn-Mar
Oct. 11 — Davenport North
Oct. 18 — at Muscatine
Oct. 25 — at Iowa City High