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Iowa high school football 2018: Area district predictions

Iowa City West's Jalen Gaudet hauls in a pass during the team's camp at West High School in Iowa City, Iowa, on Thursday, Aug. 2, 2018. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Iowa City West's Jalen Gaudet hauls in a pass during the team's camp at West High School in Iowa City, Iowa, on Thursday, Aug. 2, 2018. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

There are new classifications, new districts and a new playoff scheme for high school football this season. Welcome to the world of RPIs. The Gazette’s Jeff Linder projects area district football races.

(*=projected playoff team)

Class 4A District 3

Cedar Falls rates as the favorite after a 9-2 season, with both losses coming to eventual 4A runner-up Iowa City West. The Tigers bring back RB Sam Gary, who rushed for 1,677 yards and 19 touchdowns, as well as defensive stalwarts Jack Campbell and Tate Johnson.

Cedar Rapids Prairie (8-2) welcomes back its own prolific ground attack, led by Keegan Simmons (1,822 yards, 25 TDs).

The race for third is wide open between the other four teams.

Linder’s projections

1. Cedar Falls*

2. Cedar Rapids Prairie*

3. Dubuque Senior

4. Waterloo West

5. Cedar Rapids Jefferson

6. Dubuque Hempstead

Team previews

Cedar Rapids Prairie should have a powerful 1-2 punch on offense

Cedar Rapids Jefferson begins Chris Buesing era with untested team

Class 4A District 4

Two-time state runner-up Iowa City West and Pleasant Valley are well ahead of the rest of the pack.

West has a rebuilding chore ahead in its skill positions after running up a 22-4 mark the last two seasons (12-1 in 2017). Jalen Gaudet is a good starting point; he caught 42 passes last year for 634 yards and four touchdowns.

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Pleasant Valley (8-2) will be led by quarterback Max Slaven, who passed for 879 yards and rushed for 451, with 23 combined touchdowns.

Linder’s projections

1. Iowa City West*

2. Pleasant Valley*

3. Iowa City High

4. Davenport North

5. Linn-Mar

6. Muscatine

Team previews

Iowa City West attempts to reload after back-to-back 4A runner-up finishes

Iowa City High has enthusiasm necessary for bounce-back season

Linn-Mar seeks improvement in Paul James' second year

Class 4A District 5

Bettendorf (10-2 in 2017) is a clear favorite in this district, and probably the most likely candidate to represent the east side of the state in the championship game in November. Alex Blizzard and Rocky Schoenfelder lead a punishing defense that yielded just 11.3 points per game last season.

Cedar Rapids Washington, Cedar Rapids Kennedy and Davenport Central are projected to battle for second place, and a potential playoff berth. Kennedy LB Cade Parker was third in 4A last year with 104 tackles.

Linder’s projections

1. Bettendorf*

2. Cedar Rapids Washington

3. Cedar Rapids Kennedy

4. Davenport Central

5. Davenport West

6. Burlington

Team previews

Cedar Rapids Washington confident it can contend despite low numbers

Cedar Rapids Kennedy shakes up coaching duties with playoff hunt in mind

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Class 3A District 3

Most of West Delaware’s offensive weapons return from a team that went 8-3 and reached the quarterfinals in 2017. The list includes running backs Caleb Kehrli and Jordan Bries (a combined 1,895 yards and 28 touchdowns), quarterback Nick Casey (1,914 yards, 15 TDs) and receiver Mitchel Mangold.

The Hawks edged Waverly-Shell Rock (8-2) in the first round of the playoffs last year, and the Go-Hawks are West Delaware’s primary challenger this fall behind quarterback Luke Velky.

Linder’s projections

1. West Delaware*

2. Waverly-Shell Rock*

3. Decorah

4. Waterloo East

5. Independence

6. Charles City

Team previews

West Delaware seeks an identity on offense with talent everywhere

Class 3A District 4

Defending state champion Cedar Rapids Xavier (13-0) is a heavy favorite behind the return of quarterback Quinn Schulte, who passed for 14 touchdowns, ran for 20 and accounted for 2,170 yards of offense. Braden Stovie rushed for 997 yards and scored three touchdowns on punt returns.

Western Dubuque (5-4) moves down a class from 4A, and should be in the hunt for an at-large playoff berth.

So should Marion (6-3), which just missed the postseason last year and welcomes back QB Trevor Paulsen (1,448 passing yards, 19 TDs).

Linder’s projections

1. Cedar Rapids Xavier*

2. Western Dubuque*

3. Marion

4. Dubuque Wahlert

5. Center Point-Urbana

6. Maquoketa

Team previews

Cedar Rapids Xavier looks at 2018 as a new step

Marion looks to "super seniors" in attempt to reach playoffs

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Class 3A District 5

The new structure included a decrease in 4A teams from 48 to 42, and North Scott (9-2) should be one of the top beneficiaries. The Lancers reached the 4A quarterfinals last year and return quarterback Nile McLaughlin (1,589 passing yards, 10 TDs; 786 rushing yards, 22 TDs).

Davenport Assumption, which beat North Scott in Week 1 last year, also should be in the hunt for a playoff spot.

The wild card in this district is Iowa City Liberty, which opens its varsity existence against Iowa City High.

Linder’s projections

1. North Scott*

2. Davenport Assumption*

3. Clinton

4. Clear Creek Amana

5. Iowa City Liberty

6. DeWitt Central

Team previews

Iowa City Liberty's first varsity football team wants to rally around community

Class 3A District 6

Solon (11-1) is the pick here, by a wide margin. The Spartans’ defense did not allow a touchdown in seven games last year, and yielded just one in three others as they marched to the state semifinals. Much of that group has graduated, but the offense returns a good portion of its firepower in the junior pass-catch duo of Cam Miller and A.J. Coons, plus running back Hunter Kula.

The teeth of Solon’s schedule will come in the non-district portion, particularly in Week 1 at Mount Vernon.

Linder’s projections

1. Solon*

2. Mount Pleasant

3. Fairfield

4. Washington

5. Fort Madison

6. Keokuk

Team previews

Solon is the smallest 3A football school, but maintains big goals

Class 3A District 7

Linder's projections

1. Pella*

2. Oskaloosa

3. Newton

4. South Tama

5. Knoxville

6. Grinnell

Class 2A District 4

Waukon (12-1) won its last seven games, including four in the playoffs (all away from home) on its way to the 2A state championship last season. Much of that team has graduated, though, opening the door for others.

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Keep a keen eye on North Fayette Valley, despite its 2-7 dropoff last year. The Tigerhawks cut their teeth last year against the toughest schedule in 2A, and return QB Brooks Hovden, as well as three of their top four rushers.

Anamosa (5-4) and Monticello (5-4) are potential contenders, as well.

Linder’s projections

1. Waukon*

2. North Fayette Valley*

3. Anamosa

4. Monticello

5. Waterloo Columbus

6. Oelwein

Class 2A District 5

The state’s all-time leader in career touchdown passes, Mount Vernon’s Drew Adams has moved on to college, and the Mustangs’ identity will shift to a more run-oriented attack. That probably will increase the workload for Paul Ryan, who rushed for 1,475 yards and 18 touchdowns last year as a junior.

Mount Vernon (9-2) is a considerable favorite, with the most viable threats in the district coming from Louisa-Muscatine (up from 1A last year, 3-6) and West Burlington-Notre Dame (down from 3A, 2-7).

Linder’s projections

1. Mount Vernon*

2. Louisa-Muscaine*

3. West Burlington-Notre Dame

4. West Liberty

5. Camanche

6. Tipton

Class 2A District 6

After narrowly making the playoffs last year as an at-large team, Williamsburg (10-3) caught fire in the postseason and reached the championship game, knocking off Mount Vernon along the way before falling short against Waukon in the finals.

Gage Hazen-Fabor led the state (all classes) with 2,388 yards and 24 touchdowns. Mathyan Powell added 533 yards and 11 TDs.

Eddyville EBF (4-6) is the best of the rest.

Linder’s projections

1. Williamsburg*

2. Eddyville EBF

3. Mid-Prairie

4. Davis County

5. Central Lee

6. Albia

Team previews

Williamsburg primed to keep rolling with Gage Hazen-Fabor back

Class 2A District 7

Three of these teams (Benton Community, Nevada and Vinton-Shellsburg) move down from Class 3A.

The favorite is Union Community (8-4), which qualified as an at-large team last year, knocked off Cascade in the quarterfinals before bowing to Williamsburg in the semis. The Knights have a good nucleus back led by Kaleb Roach (891 rushing yards) and Britton Rolloson (45 tackles).

West Marshall (6-3) and Roland-Story (4-5) are potential playoff qualifiers.

Linder’s projections

1. Union Community*

2. West Marshall*

3. Roland-Story

4. Benton Community

5. Nevada

6. Vinton-Shellsburg

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Class 1A District 4

Along with District 1, this group can make the claim as the best in 1A, and it’s a good possibility that three teams will advance to the playoffs.

Bellevue (8-2) and West Branch (9-1) were 1A playoff teams last year, and the drop-down of Cascade (10-1 and a 2A quarterfinalist) adds even more depth.

Bellevue’s Hunter Clasen rushed for 1,496 yards and 24 touchdowns, West Branch QB Beau Cornwell threw for 2,125 yards (on 64-percent accuracy) and 20 TDs, and Cascade had the passing combo of Haris Hoffman to Logan Otting.

Yeah, this district is stacked at the top.

Linder’s projections

1. Bellevue*

2. Cascade*

3. West Branch*

4. Dyersville Beckman

5. Northeast

6. North Cedar

Team previews

West Branch prepares for rigorous schedule with 'perfect effort'

Class 1A District 5

Linder's projections

1. Wilton*

2. Mediapolis*

3. Sigourney-Keota

4, Wapello

5. Van Buren

6. Columbus Community

Class 1A District 6

It’s difficult to imagine Iowa City Regina as anything but a heavy favorite in a district race, but the move of Dike-New Hartford down from 2A has the Regals as a co-favorite at best. The Wolverines (6-4) return nearly intact after a 2A playoff berth last year.

Regina (10-3) started 0-2, then won 10 straight (including tight playoff wins over South Winneshiek and Pella Christian) before falling to Van Meter in the title game. Get ready for three years of the passing combination of Ashton Cook to Alex Wick.

Linder’s projections

1. Dike-New Hartford*

2. Iowa City Regina*

3. East Marshall

4. North Linn

5. South Hardin

6. Jesup

Class A District 4

Linder's projections

1. Mason City Newman*

2. Saint Ansgar*

3. South Winneshiek

4. Central Springs

5. Nashua-Plainfield

6. Starmont

7. Postville

Class A District 5

After bitterly missing the playoffs last year in controversial fashion based on points, Alburnett (7-2) is poised to leave any doubt to rest this fall. The Pirates lost Tanner Sloan to graduation, but return a number of strong pieces, including quarterback Luke Smith, receiver Matt Barnett and top tackler Holden Sevening.

The Pirates’ top challenger might by Edgewood-Colesburg (4-5), which dropped a 36-29 decision to the Pirates last year and welcomes back multi-threat Preston Rochford.

Linder’s projections

1. Alburnett*

2. Edgewood-Colesburg

3. Clayton Ridge

4. Maquoketa Valley

5. Lisbon

6. MFL MarMac

Team previews

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Alburnett expects to spread the ball around in 2018

Class A District 6

Linder's projections

1. Belle Plaine*

2. Durant

3. Highland

4. BGM

5. Pekin

6. Cardinal

Team previews

Belle Plaine plans on taking another step forward in 2018

Class A District 7

Linder's projections

1. Hudson*

2. North Tama*

3. Wapsie Valley

4. East Buchanan

5. Grundy Center

6. Garwin GMG

7. Conrad BCLUW

8-Player District 3

After reaching the state semifinals each of the last two years (both of which ended in losses in the UNI-Dome to Don Bosco), Midland (9-3) carries on without prolific running back Austin Smith. There’s still some talent there, led by quarterback Britan Martens and receiver Carter Mohr, and that should keep the Eagles at or near the top of this district.

If another playoff qualifier emerges from District 3, it could be Turkey Valley (6-3) or maybe Central City (4-6).

Linder’s projections

1. Midland*

2. Turkey Valley

3. Central City

4. Springville

5. Easton Valley

6. Elkader Central

7. Lansing Kee

8. West Central

Team previews

Midland tries to reload after two state semifinal appearances

8-Player District 4

When a team leaves the 11-player game for the eight-player version, it’s guesswork on how it will fare.

Such is the case for New London (6-3), which made the Class A playoffs last year, and for Montezuma (4-4). The hunch is that both will be very competitive from the start, particularly the Tigers, who return their top passer, rusher, receiver and tackler.

The ground trio of Garet Sims, Ben Smith and Derek Leonard combined for more than 2,300 yards and 43 TDs for Iowa Valley (6-3).

Linder’s projections

1. New London*

2. Iowa Valley*

3. Montezuma*

4. HLV

5. Lone Tree

6. Winfield-Mount Union

7. WACO

8. English Valleys

9. Tri-County

8-Player District 5

Linder's projections

1. Gladbrook-Reinbeck*

2. Baxter

3. Ackley AGWSR

4. Meskwaki

5. Colo-Nesco

6. Melcher-Dallas

7. Twin Cedars

8. Collins-Maxwell

l Comments: (319) 368-8857; jeff.linder@thegazette.com

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We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.