Prep Football

Linn-Mar seeks improvement in Paul James' second year

Lions return skill-position talent from 2-7 team

Linn-Mar football coach Paul James talks with his team during a practice last summer at Linn-Mar. James starts his second season with the Lions after a long career at Cedar Rapids Washington. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Linn-Mar football coach Paul James talks with his team during a practice last summer at Linn-Mar. James starts his second season with the Lions after a long career at Cedar Rapids Washington. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
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MARION — At this time of the year, all high school football coaches are looking to see what kind of conditioning and focus their players have.

Carrying the teaching points from summer workouts into the first few days of fall practice can be hard for some, but in order to have success it’s one thing that must be done.

For a program in overhaul, information retention is key. When your team is young and inexperienced, it becomes even more important.

Coach Paul James is tuning up the new engine to his 2018 Linn-Mar football team. All the brand-new parts are adjusting to running a fairly new system, after a year of transition.

During his time as head coach and an assistant at Cedar Rapids Washington, James was honored to instruct a lot of great players — from former NFL players Rob Bruggeman and Dedric Ward to Adrian Arrington and Travis Rhone. Out of all the talent he’s been around in his seasoned high school coaching career, it’s the players you’ve never heard of that tend to stick out to James.

“Over the years, there have been a lot of kids that were highly committed and gave their all to the program,” James said.

Guys like Gavin McGrath and Carl Protsch came to mind first. His biggest joy, however, came from coaching his sons and their friends from the time they were little into their eventual high school careers.

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Ending his tenure at Washington with an 11-2 season, James made the transition to coaching at Linn-Mar in 2017. That type of success will bring expectations from all sides. But a 2-7 inaugural season is the motivating factor for all involved in this year’s team.

For the 2018 campaign, James is supplied with a bevy of skill-position talent — and depth. James is looking forward to finding ways to get the ball to all of them. Part of his coaching philosophy is adapting to the new players on each team. Although they rely on mostly I-formation mixed with some one-back looks offensively, James values being “open to changes.”

“I don’t come in with a plan of run this many times and throw that, it varies year to year depending on the kids,” he said.

Linebacker Luke Holmes, running back Alex Hess and defensive back Bridger Aucutt are among James’ top returners this year. All three mentioned the goal as simply “being better than last year.”

“Everybody is more comfortable with the system and everything seems to be on track,” Holmes said.

“Last year was a little new to us, a lot of us didn’t really know what we were doing (in the system),” Aucutt said.

“This year, we’ve kind off came into it and I think we’ve got off on a better foot,” Hess said.

Quietly confident. Hungry and humble.

“Both years, the coaches have pushed us to be better but this year it seems like everyone is more comfortable because we’ve been under the staff for more than a year,” Holmes said.

James’ “intensity” is what these guys like most about competing for him.

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All three love playing the game. However, each enjoy football for different reasons. Family, friends and football.

Playing middle linebacker and tight end, Holmes simply likes to “hit people and catch balls.” Aucutt began playing in fourth grade “because all of my friends were doing it. Why not go out and have a good time?”

For Hess, it was about growing up watching his football-playing brother, deciding it was something he would dedicate his time to as well.

James and his team still have time to prepare for the season opener, but the campaign couldn’t start soon enough if you asked them.

“Going out there on Friday nights and having a good time with my buddies,” Aucutt said he is looking forward to most.

He’ll get his first chance on the road against Dubuque Senior on Aug. 24.

Linn-Mar, at a glance

Coach: Paul James (second year at Linn-Mar, 2-7; 17th season overall, 99-64)

Last year: 2-7, failed to make Class 4A playoffs

Top returners: RB Alex Hess, LB/TE Luke Holmes, DE/FB Alex Lahmon, DB Bridger Aucutt, K Austin Brinning, DB/WR Connor McSperrin

Key to making the playoffs: Finding depth along the offensive and defensive lines and players retaining what they learned in James’ first year on the job.

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Games to watch: A season-opener on the road, at Dubuque Senior, could set the tone for James’ second season. Big games follow at Kingston against Kennedy and at home against Jefferson.

Schedule

Aug 24 — at Dubuque Senior

Aug 31 — at Cedar Rapids Kennedy

Sept. 7 — Cedar Rapids Jefferson

Sept. 14 — Urbandale

Sept. 20 — at Davenport North

Sept. 28 — Iowa City West

Oct. 5 — at Muscatine

Oct. 12 — Iowa City High

Oct. 19 — at Pleasant Valley

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