MARION — Paul James has high hopes for his fourth season as head football coach at Linn-Mar.
He also knows his team is lucky to be playing football.
“We just want to build on (last year), improve and get seven games in,” James said. “That would be an accomplishment and if we win more than we lose, that’s going to be good.
“We have high expectations, but I don’t want to put a number on it.”
With COVID-19 creating an unorthodox seven-game schedule and every team making the playoffs, James had already chosen “stronger together” as the team’s theme, well before many of the players had their homes damaged by the recent derecho.
“With these last eight days, it’s got even more meaning,” James said. “Another thing we talk about is being about team. We just keep being positive with the kids and hopefully have a lot of fun on the field.”
The Lions return eight senior letterwinners, including six starters.
Bricen White, the Lions’ top-producing running back last season with 790 yards and seven touchdowns on 165 carries, is one of them.
“I’m lucky enough to have a second season as a starter,” White said. “I’m just looking to contribute any way that I can, hopefully with some touchdowns.”
While scoring is important, White really enjoys third-down conversions.
“Touchdowns just come with it,” he said.
Blocking for the Lions’ new signal-caller, junior McKade Jelinek, is senior left tackle Cole Doty, who has been gaining experience on the offensive line since his sophomore year.
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“I think as long as we can keep up the effort we’ve had this week, I think we have a great team in the making,” said Doty, who also lines up at defensive end.
Helping Doty and the Lions along the defensive line will be 5-foot-11, 220-pound Chris Baker, who is shifting to right guard from fullback on offensive snaps.
“The defense wants to get three sacks and four tackles for loss a game,” Baker said. “All of our goals are team-oriented, just to make sure everyone helps out.”
Helping on defense is something Baker enjoys.
“I love being in the trenches,” Baker said. “Some people are afraid to hit. No, I like to embrace it.”
While coaches and players are mostly not worried about stats, they do expect to taste success in 2020.
“We’re not thinking about if we can contend for state,” Baker said. “We’re making sure that everyone on the team does their job each week so we can win the game. We’re not focused out in the distance, we’re focused on the now.”
Linn-Mar at a glance
Coach: Paul James (3 years, 11-17)
Last year: 6-4, lost in first round of Class 4A playoffs
Top returners: DB/WR Jeron Senters, DB/WR Clayton Muszynski, TE/QB/DE Andrew Knipper, DB/WR Cam Guenther, RB/LB Bricen White, LB Sage Holmes, LB Elijah Glekiah, DL Chris Baker, DE/OL Luke Gaffney, OL/DL Cole Doty, DL/OL Lucas Baumann, OL/DL Dylan Page, WR/P Kane Deutmeyer, DL/RB Abass Kemokai
Aug. 28 — at Dubuque Hempstead
Sept. 4 — Cedar Rapids Xavier
Sept. 11 — at Iowa City Liberty
Sept. 18 — Cedar Rapids Washington
Sept. 25 — at Cedar Rapids Prairie
Oct. 2 — Iowa City High
Oct. 9 — at Cedar Falls