CENTRAL CITY — His very first conversation with Hayden Fry wasn’t really a conversation.
Matt Miers was a freshman manager for the Iowa football team in the 1990s and very much trying to figure out his duties. The setting was the Hawkeyes’ first day of practice.
“I’m not sure what I was doing,” Miers said, with a laugh. “I was standing within 10 yards of a play, and, all of a sudden, he starts yelling at me. He didn’t know my name at that point in time. He was like ‘Manager! Manager! Get over here!’ That was my very first interaction with Hayden Fry.”
Being up close and personally involved with a major college program only cemented what Miers knew back when he entered high school in Rockton, Ill. He wanted to be a head football coach.
Which he did very successfully this fall. In his fourth season, he led Central City to an 8-1 regular season and only the school’s second appearance in the IHSAA playoffs.
The Wildcats put up a fight before bowing in the first round to Don Bosco, 62-37, but it was one very special season for everyone in this Linn County community. Miers has been selected The Gazette’s 2018 Coach of the Year.
“It was an amazing season,” Miers said. “Just looking back, first of all, our five seniors were absolutely amazing. Four of the five got all-state honors, the fifth one was first-team all-district. Their hard work really helped propel us to the season we had.”
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Those five seniors are Trey Holub, Kyle Marsh, Nile Coghlan, T.J. Ayers and Wyatt Starry. They bought into what their coach was selling: get into the weight room and work hard in the offseason.
As good coaches do, Miers also was flexible enough to change his team’s offense this season. He went to the single wing, which took advantage of the running abilities of Holub, Marsh and junior Isaiah Damm, as well as the passing talents of 6-foot-6 quarterback Nick Reid.
Central City went from averaging 29.9 points per game to 55.6.
“At the end of last season, I felt like we should have been able to score a lot more points than we did,” Miers said. “So I did a lot of research last offseason on the single wing, talked to some coaches that run it. I just thought ‘Oh, that’s a great fit for our program.’ Once I started figuring out some of that stuff, it was kind of beneficial.”
Miers said he still is learning a lot about the 8-Player game. He went into his job at Central City sort of blind, having been an assistant coach prior for 15 years at Cedar Rapids Kennedy and one at Solon.
He said he never anticipated having to wait as long as he did for a head coaching gig but feels it was a blessing in the long run. He feels at home in Central City.
“Ultimately, 8-man is just like 11-man in that it’s blocking and tackling,” he said. “That first summer was really a whirlwind, as far as ‘OK, how do I adjust?’ Going from Solon to Central City was a huge adjustment, not only in going from a larger school to a smaller school. Then there was the adjustment to 8-man, I didn’t really know anybody coaching it, so it was a lot of film study, talking to our assistants, just trying to learn it. Then it was the first year, OK, we’re going to run what I know best, what I’m most familiar with in 11-man. Then it was, OK, let’s evaluate. This is what works, this is what doesn’t work, then we made adjustments from there.”
Central City loses a handful of high-quality players but will have some good guys returning next season. The hope is this is just the beginning for the Wildcats.
The 2018 season was just the first brick in what will be a very tall wall.
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“Probably every coach would say this, but we’re not there, yet. I don’t know if I would ever say we’re there,” Miers said. “Quite honestly, next year will be a great coaching challenge for us. Just because of all the guys we lose. I’ve said this throughout this season, but I don’t want to be a one-hit wonder.
“The little taste of the playoffs we got has really energized the guys, I think, and the community as well.”
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