Prep Football

Defending 3A champion Western Dubuque will battle a depth deficit this fall

Just 29 on the varsity roster, but the return of QB Garrett Baumhover should help soften the blow

Western Dubuque football coach Justin Penner talks to his team after their Class 3A state-championship win over Solon la
Western Dubuque football coach Justin Penner talks to his team after their Class 3A state-championship win over Solon last season. The Bobcats could have experience and depth issues this fall, but could “be a tough out at the end of the season,” according to Penner. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

EPWORTH — It was a comment that required a double-take.

Justin Penner was talking about — raving about — Calvin Harris’ successor at quarterback for the Western Dubuque football team.

“(Garrett Baumhover) is as good of a quarterback as we’ve had here,” Penner said.

Wait a second. Hold on.

Now at the University of Mississippi on a baseball scholarship, Harris piloted the Bobcats to a 13-0 record and a Class 3A state championship last season. He was the 2020 Gazette Male Athlete of the Year.

Baumhover hasn’t taken a varsity snap since 2018. But Penner, now in his 16th season with the Bobcats, believes in him.

“He’s extremely accurate and has great chemistry with the guys,” Penner said.

After focusing on basketball last year, Baumhover returns to the football program. It was a much-needed revelation for a squad with 29 varsity players.

“I have to prove a lot,” he said. “Calvin was such a great quarterback. He’ll be tough to live up to, but I think I’m up to it.

“I like to throw the deep ball, and I think my strongest part is reading the defense.”

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The Bobcats were hit hard by graduation after last year’s run to glory, then the COVID-19 pandemic kept Penner and his staff from contact with this year’s squad throughout the spring and summer.

“It’s always hard to go from the end of a season to the beginning of the next season, but it’s been exceptionally hard this year,” Penner said. “We know we have kids that are working hard.”

And he also knows that, for one year, he’ll be fighting a numbers game.

“We have a lack of depth, especially at some key spots, that I’ve very concerned about,” he said. “We’re not going to have 22 different starters; we’re going to have a pretty good number of kids playing both ways.”

Baumhover will have a couple of good, experienced targets in Tommy DeSollar (19 catches, 287 yards, four touchdowns last season) and Logan Brosius (12 receptions, 133 yards, 1 TD).

“(DeSollar) made some big catches in the playoffs for us last year,” Penner said. “We’re very excited about him.”

Other key returners are Dakota Lau, who will anchor the secondary, linebacker Sawyer Nauman and lineman Cole Phillips.

Last year’s Bobcats were season-long 3A favorites, and lived up to it.

This year’s Bobcats?

“It’s hard to say,” Penner said. “Will we play two games? Will we play eight games?

“I really believe, if we work hard on the basics, we can be a tough out at the end of the season.”

So does Baumhover.

“I think we have a lot of potential,” he said.

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Western Dubuque opens with non-district games against Cedar Rapids Xavier (away) and Dubuque Hempstead (home). Its key district game is Oct. 2 at West Delaware.

Western Dubuque, at a glance

Coach: Justin Penner (16th year, 91-67)

Last year: 13-0, Class 3A state champion

Top returners: QB Garrett Baumhover, WR Tommy DeSollar, DB Dakota Lau, OL/DL Cole Phillips, LB Sawyer Nauman

2020 regular-season schedule:

Aug. 28 — at Cedar Rapids Xavier

Sept. 4 — Dubuque Hempstead

Sept. 11 — at Charles City

Sept. 18 — Waverly-Shell Rock

Sept. 25 — Waterloo East

Oct. 2 — at West Delaware

Oct. 9 — at Decorah

Comments: (319) 368-8857; jeff.linder@thegazette.com

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