Prep Football

Iowa high school football 2020: Gazette area district predictions

Iowa City Regina figures to make an immediate, major impact in Class A

Waukon's Creed Welch looks to pass near the end zone during the second quarter of their Class 2A state football final la
Waukon’s Creed Welch looks to pass near the end zone during the second quarter of their Class 2A state football final last year. Welch and the Indians are Class 2A District 4 favorites. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

They are ALL IN. No, that’s not another gimicky T-shirt catchphrase for the 2020 Iowa high school football season. It’s a fact.

Along with the unconventional seven-week regular season (due to the COVID-19 pandemic), the Iowa High School Athletic Association has adopted a playoff format in which everybody qualifies.

This year also marks the return of Mississippi Valley Conference football, for one season. Twelve of the MVC teams are in Class 4A, and will be split into a pair of six-team divisions. The other five classes will compete in districts, as usual.

Our predictions for the 2020 league races:

Class 4A MVC Mississippi Division

Consensus from more than one Metro coach is that Cedar Falls will be the top 4A team in Eastern Iowa. The Tigers bring back a 1,000-yard rusher in Ryan Ostrich, and there’s plenty back to go around him. Tradition doesn’t hurt, either. Iowa City High appears ready for a big jump back up the ladder after a downtick, and Linn-Mar and Cedar Rapids Prairie are dangerous as well. Linn-Mar returns a pair of defensive aces in Clayton Muszynski (87 tackles) and Jeron Senters (seven interceptions), who led 4A last year in those respective categories. Prairie’s Nick Pearson finished second in the 4A rushing derby last year, with 1,654 yards (he scored 22 TDs). The Hawks’ original schedule was brutal, but eased up somewhat once the format went to MVC-only.

Projected finish:

1. Cedar Falls

2. Iowa City High

3. Linn-Mar

4. Cedar Rapids Prairie

5. Cedar Rapids Washington

6. Iowa City Liberty

Class 4A MVC Valley Division

With the development of the two 4A Dubuque schools, this has the looks of a balanced four-team race. Iowa City West quarterback Marcus Morgan was third among 4A passers last season, with 1,723 yards. He passed for 11 touchdowns and four interceptions. Cedar Rapids Kennedy advanced to the state semifinals and returns dual-threat QB Max White (751 passing yards on 71-percent accuracy, 1,114 rushing yards and 18 TDs on the ground). Dubuque Hempstead and Dubuque Senior are legitimate title threats. Four of Hempstead’s five losses last season were by eight points or less, and Senior is well-equipped with playmakers.

Projected finish:

1. Iowa City West

2. Cedar Rapids Kennedy

3. Dubuque Hempstead

4. Dubuque Senior

5. Waterloo West

6. Cedar Rapids Jefferson

Class 3A District 3

After a rare non-playoffs season in 2019, West Delaware has the goods to make a deep run this fall. The Hawks did finish last year with three straight wins. Quarterback Jared Voss is back after passing for 993 yards and rushing for 301 last season, and his favorite target — Kyle Kelley (30 catches, 496 yards) — also returns. Western Dubuque is the defending 3A champion and was 13-0 in 2019. Graduation losses were heavy for the Bobcats, but there are enough weapons back to challenge for the district title. Despite a 2-7 record last year, Charles City could be a surprise, and Decorah has a winning tradition on its side.

Projected finish:

1. West Delaware

2. Western Dubuque

3. Charles City

4. Decorah

5. Waterloo East

6. Waverly-Shell Rock

Class 3A District 4

After an 0-9 season last year, Marion has a new cast of opponents, most of which reside along the Mississippi River. Davenport Assumption, Dubuque Wahlert and North Scott appear to be a solid trio at the top. North Scott advanced to the second round of the playoffs last year. Marion could make some headway if it can find a spark for an offense than managed just 127 total yards per game last fall.

Projected finish:

1. Davenport Assumption

2. Dubuque Wahlert

3. North Scott

4. DeWitt Central

5. Marion

6. Clinton

Class 3A District 5

Projected finish:

1. Washington

2. Mount Pleasant

3. Keokuk

4. Burlington

5. Fort Madison

6. Fairfield

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Class 3A District 6

At 6-3, Grinnell was one of the top teams to miss the 2019 playoffs. Mostly intact, the Tigers have the potential to play well into November. Quarterback Dallas Sauser passed for 1,748 yards and 15 touchdowns as a freshman. His top target (Cole McGriff caught 40 passes for 541 yards) is back as well. And so is RB Wyatt Hunter, whose 1,589 rushing yards were most in 3A. Cedar Rapids Xavier won’t concede the title quietly; the Saints will be a disciplined, well-coached outfit. Clear Creek Amana also could enter the mix; Quarterback Ryan Navara threw for 1,249 yards and 12 TDs last year as a junior. Due to facility damage from the Aug. 10 storm, Benton Community will play all of its games on the road or at neutral fields.

Projected finish:

1. Grinnell

2. Cedar Rapids Xavier

3. Clear Creek Amana

4. Benton Community

5. Oskaloosa

6. Newton

Class 2A District 4

Waukon has it rolling these days. A 34-4 record through the past three seasons with three straight UNI-Dome appearances (champion in 2017, semifinalist in 2018, runner-up in 2019). Expect more big things this fall. You’ve got stars in quarterback Creed Welch, RB Ethan O’Neill and LB Lincoln Snitker. Welch threw for 2,226 yards and 26 touchdowns, O’Neill ran for 958 yards and 10 scores, and Snitker collected 95 tackles. If the Indians are to be challenged in this district, it will likely come at New Hampton on Sept. 11.

Projected finish:

1. Waukon

2. New Hampton

3. North Fayette Valley

4. Crestwood

5. Independence

6. Oelwein

Class 2A District 5

It was just a few years ago when Anamosa rose from the depths to win a district championship. It could happen again. The Raiders were 2-7 last year, but won two of their last three games. They bring back virtually all of their top skill guys, as well as their top defenders. Top to bottom, this is one of the most balanced districts in 2A. Monticello has a good receiving corps returning in Justin Recker and Tyler Luensman, who combined for 83 catches and 12 TDs. Payten Elijah intercepted seven passes last year for Tipton.

Projected finish:

1. Anamosa

2. Camanche

3. Maquoketa

4. Monticello

5. West Liberty

6. Tipton

Class 2A District 6

Another balanced district here. Lucas Stanton takes the reins at Solon after Kevin Miller resigned following an 18-year run that featured a 180-32 record and four state championships. The Spartans were 3A runners-up last year, but graduation losses were heavy, so don’t expect them to simply breeze through the district. The other five teams in this district could finish in any order. Vinton-Shellsburg was 3-6 in 2019, but a few breaks could have put the Vikings in the playoffs. Five of their losses were by two touchdowns or less. Mount Vernon returns QB Brady Ketchum, who threw for 1,381 yards.

Projected finish:

1. Solon

2. Vinton-Shellsburg

3. Mount Vernon

4. Center Point-Urbana

5. South Tama

6. Union Community

Class 2A District 7

It’s a two-team race, with Mid-Prairie and Williamsburg standing high above the rest of the district. The showdown is Sept. 25 at Williamsburg. The Raiders won last year’s battle 28-6, and they went on to reach the 2A semifinals. Mid-Prairie’s other two losses were against 3A schools. The Golden Hawks appear set in the backfield with the return of Kayden Reinier (1,127 rushing yards, 21 TDs). A lot of the defense revolves around Justin Jones (58.5 tackles). Williamsburg’s Levi Weldon passed for 632 yards and collected a team-high 65 tackles.

Projected finish:

1. Mid-Prairie

2. Williamsburg

3. Davis County

4. West Burlington-Notre Dame

5. Eddyville EBF

6. Central Lee

Class 1A District 4

Projected finish:

1. Osage

2. Waterloo Columbus

3. Denver

4. Jesup

5. Sumner-Fredericksburg

6. Central Springs

Class 1A District 5

It’s not a bad bet that West Branch Coach Butch Pedersen will be among the top 10 coaches in state history by the end of the season. Pedersen currently ranks 12th with a 37-year mark of 315-77. Seven victories would get him into the top 10. The Bears are a fairly heavy favorite to claim the District 5 title behind quarterback Gavin Hierseman, who passed for 1,550 yards and 19 touchdowns last season. The Bears’ chief threat likely will come in the form of Dyersville Beckman, which returns a good quarterback of its own in Nick Offerman, who accounted for 1,767 total yards and 18 touchdowns.

Projected finish:

1. West Branch

2. Dyersville Beckman

3. Durant

4. Wilton

5. Cascade

6. Northeast

Class 1A District 6

Projected finish:

1. Sigourney-Keota

2. Pekin

3. Mediapolis

4. Cardinal

5. Louisa-Muscatine

6. Van Buren County

Class A District 4

There appears to be a wide gulf between the top three teams and the bottom three. Wapsie Valley rates a slight favorite over South Winneshiek and 2019 feel-good story MFL MarMac. Wapsie will be led by the pass-catch combo of Kobe Risse and Blayde Bellis. South Winn counters with quarterback Jacob Herold (174 of 285, 2,562 yards, 21 touchdowns) and receiver Cael Kuboushek (a Class A-leading 63 catches for 819 yards and five TDs). MFL MarMac is coming off its first winning season since 1993.

Projected finish:

1. Wapsie Valley

2. South Winneshiek

3. MFL MarMac

4. Postville

5. Starmont

6. Clayton Ridge

Class A District 5

The return of Parker Rochford is a big reason Edgewood-Colesburg is the team to beat in a fairly stacked district. As quarterback, Rochford passed for 1,253 yards and 11 touchdowns. As a defensive back, he picked off seven enemy passes. Five teams in this district would have been solid playoff hopefuls in a normal season in which 16 teams qualify, with the addition of Bellevue and North Linn (which had been 1A teams) adding to the depth. North Linn’s Austin Hilmer caught 40 passes for 508 yards and six touchdowns.

Projected finish:

1. Edgewood-Colesburg

2. East Buchanan

3. Bellevue

4. Maquoketa Valley

5. North Linn

6. Alburnett

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Class A District 6

A collective gulp could be heard from small towns throughout the state when the news came down that Regina was moving to Class A. The Regals have one of the top passing combinations in Ashton Cook (2,446 yards, 25 touchdowns) and Alec Wick (79 catches, 1,161 yards, 14 TDs). The Regals went 9-3 and reached the 1A semifinals last year. After two straight losing seasons (including 0-9 in 2018), Lisbon is ready for a return to prosperity. The Lions have a collection of juniors and seniors poised to do big things. Like Regina, North Cedar moves down from 1A and has a productive receiving corps led by Kael Unruh and Gage Walshire.

Projected finish:

1. Iowa City Regina

2. Lisbon

3. North Cedar

4. Wapello

5. Highland

6. Columbus Community

Class A District 7

Projected finish:

1. Grundy Center

2. Belle Plaine

3. North Tama

4. Conrad BCLUW

5. North Mahaska

6. Lynnville-Sully

8-Player District 2

Projected finish:

1. Janesville

2. Northwood-Kensett

3. Rockford

4. Tripoli

5. Ackley AGWSR

6. Turkey Valley

7. Riceville

8. North Iowa

9. Clarksville

8-Player District 3

For the last eight years, Don Bosco has been an 8-Player giant. Since 2012, the Dons have compiled a 95-6 record. They have advanced to the state finals six times and won four championships (2013, 2016, 2017, 2019). This could be their best team yet, led by quarterback Cael Frost. Easton Valley and Springville figure to battle for the second spot. Spencer DeMean returns for Springville after rushing for 1,043 yards and 11 touchdowns, and Grant Gloeckner (73 tackles) is back to key the defense.

Projected finish:

1. Don Bosco

2. Easton Valley

3. Springville

4. Dunkerton

5. Central City

6. Lansing Kee

7. Midland

8. West Central

9. Elkader Central

8-Player District 4

Projected finish:

1. Montezuma

2. New London

3. English Valleys

4. Lone Tree

5. Moravia

6. WACO

7. Winfield-Mount Union

8. Twin Cedars

9. Tri-County

8-Player District 5

Projected finish:

1. HLV

2. BGM

3. Gladbrook-Reinbeck

4. Colo-Nesco

5. Iowa Valley

6. Collins-Maxwell

7. Garwin GMG

8. Baxter

9. Meskwaki

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.