Prep Football

Marion develops togetherness as it prepares for one of state's most difficult schedules

Indians face 4 ranked teams, including top 3 in 3A

Marion senior Connor Whalen (center) leads the varsity team in a cheer during practice at Marion High School in Marion, Iowa, on Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2019. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Marion senior Connor Whalen (center) leads the varsity team in a cheer during practice at Marion High School in Marion, Iowa, on Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2019. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
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MARION — Like any high school football team grinding through preseason practice drills, the Marion Indians do so with their goals for the 2019 season in mind.

That pursuit is fueled by a simple three-word concept.

“Together we will.”

“That is really what it is all about,” fourth-year Marion coach Tim Lovell said. “There is no other group I would rather be with. These guys have been in the program, these seniors in particular, four years. They know what we are all about. They know what we are doing. They believe in what we are doing and the young guys are feeding off of that.”

Last season, the Indians’ record dipped to 4-5, the first losing campaign in Lovell’s short tenure. Armed with a group of experienced, competitive returners displaying arguably more athleticism than any of Lovell’s teams, Marion appears poised to tackle its rugged schedule head-on.

“It is the chemistry,” Marion senior tailback/linebacker Isaac Cechota said. “This is going to be my fourth year, so the chemistry just builds up onto that point. That is going to be very good because we know how each guy works and to trust each other.”

Cechota (7.7 yards per carry last season), fellow senior Connor Whalen and junior Lucas Unsen (215 yards) are expected to boost a Marion running attack that will require significant production in order to relieve some pressure from a first-year starting quarterback. A pair of juniors, 5-foot-9 Ryan Paulsen and 6-2 Wyatt Cannon, are involved in a stiff QB competition.

“Both of those guys have been battling,” Whalen said. “They have both given us great looks. Each of them have their strengths. There are not really any weaknesses between the two of them. It is just great to see them battle it out.”

Whichever quarterback ultimately gets the call, the offensive line in front of him has the experience to ensure he can do his job. Junior Kaden Swanger and seniors Logan Hangartner and Christian Lakose are back and senior Ben Gibson has moved from fullback to center. Juniors Carter Gustafson and Thomas McAllister also are in the mix.

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“Tight-knit group,” Gibson said. “We have got experience. We have got guys who like to get down, dirty and physical. That is what you need on the O-line.”

Juniors CJ Anderson and DaeQuan Johnson have shown the way at receiver for the Indians during camp, while senior Jaffer Murphy, twice selected all-state for the Marion boys’ soccer team, will again handle kicking duties for the football squad after setting the Indians’ single season and career records for field goals made (7), as well as breaking the school kickoff record (14 touchbacks and 2,694 kickoff yards).

“He has got a big leg,” Lovell said. “He has intangibles that not everybody has just in terms of genetic, God-given talent, but he also takes his craft very seriously.”

The 2018 Marion defense was on its way to a strong campaign until Western Dubuque and Cedar Rapids Xavier — combatants in the Class 3A state championship game — posted 62 and 51 points, respectively, in the last two games of the Indians’ season.

This year, increased athleticism should prove fruitful to the Marion defensive alignment of four linemen and four linebackers. Senior D-lineman Trevor Koffron accounted for 28.5 tackles last season, including four for loss. He will be joined on the D-line by Hangartner, Lakose and Swanger.

Gibson recorded 32.5 tackles last season at linebacker, a position group that could have as many as eight players see the field, including Cechota.

“I love being on defense,” Cechota said. “I love the physicality part and just being mean. I am not afraid to get in anybody’s face, even if they are bigger, taller, stronger than me. I want all the smoke.”

The defensive secondary lost three seniors, but Whalen (32.5 tackles, two interceptions) returns for a third season at cornerback. Johnson will likely get the nod at another corner, with senior Dane Carstensen also a factor. Anderson, Cannon and Paulsen figure to be in the safety rotation.

The Marion schedule includes a non-conference home game against 2018 playoff participant Solon, plus rematches with Western Dubuque and Xavier.

The Indians open with a home game Aug. 30 against Washington (Iowa).

“Home games are the best,” Gibson said. “I love Thomas Park. The grass, the environment, everything. It is just going to be hard-nosed football. It is just going to be put your head down and fight, fight, fight.”

Marion Indians

Coach: Tim Lovell (fourth season, 15-12)

Last year: 4-5

Top returners: DB Dane Carstensen, RB/LB Isaac Cechota, C/LB Ben Gibson, OL/DL Logan Hangartner, DL Trevor Koffron, OL/DL Christian Lakose, K/P Jaffer Murphy, OL/DL Kaden Swanger, RB/DB Connor Whalen

Keys to making the playoffs: The Indians will need to identify a difference-maker at quarterback and navigate a tough schedule.

Games to watch: Sept. 13 vs. Solon; Oct. 18 vs. Western Dubuque

Schedule

Aug. 30 — Washington

Sep. 6 — at West Delaware

Sep. 13 — No. 3 Solon

Sep. 20 — at No. 10 Clear Creek Amana

Sep. 27 — Center Point-Urbana

Oct. 4 — at Maquoketa

Oct. 11 — Dubuque Wahlert

Oct. 18 — No. 1 Western Dubuque

Oct. 25 — at No. 2 Cedar Rapids Xavier

l Comments: douglas.miles@thegazette.com

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