By Pat Harty
Your Prep Sports
IOWA CITY – Jared Brinkman was in seventh grade when Regina won a second consecutive state title in football.
That’s when he and his classmates started doing the math and plotting their course in what is now a dynasty with Regina having won six consecutive state titles and 82 of its last 84 games.
“Since seventh grade, we’ve been saying if we keep winning it, it would be seven and now it’s actually here,” said Brinkman, who has started on the offensive and defensive lines for Regina since he was a sophomore. “We have to live up to expectations and I think we all want that.”
Expectations for Regina are as high they get, with anything short of a state title considered a disappointment. Regina losing just one game sends shockwaves because it rarely happens anymore.
That could bring a lot of pressure, but the players see it differently.
“It’s more of an opportunity,” said senior quarterback Tommy Rapp. We’ve been on the sidelines and had different roles on the field. But now this our senior year. It’s kind of our turn. There is some pressure. But it goes by quick. We just try to make the most of it.”
The 6-foot-3, 185-pound Rapp is competing with junior Michael Conlon for the starting quarterback position. Whoever doesn’t win the job still will play a significant role on offense, most likely as a receiver.
Rapp and Conlon both will have the luxury of playing behind an experienced offensive line that is led by Brinkman, who is committed to Northern Iowa for football in addition to being a state champion wrestler.
The Regals have to replace some key skill players from last season, including running back Nick Phillips and quarterback Nathan Stenger. The experience on the offensive line should help ease that transition.
The names might change at Regina, but the philosophy under head coach Marv Cook doesn’t.
“If you can run the ball effectively, it just makes your play selection easier,” Cook said. “On third-and-five, you don’t have to necessarily throw it all the time. The fact that if you have a big offensive line and it’s effective, it just makes the play calling that much easier.”
Expect the Regals to still have a Phillips playing running back as Nick’s younger brother, junior Jake Phillips, is poised to be the featured back.
Jake isn’t quite as shifty as Nick, who now plays football for Northern Iowa, but Jake (6-1, 182) is bigger than his older brother and runs with power and purpose.
Junior Issac Vollstedt also will contribute at running back, while seniors Jack Jensen and Trae Rogers will provide threats at receiver. All three played extensively last season.
“Each year is a little bit different because each year we have a little bit different talent,” Rapp said. “So most of the time it’s just getting the ball to our skill players and making sure that we keep the defense honest and take what they give us.”
Regina will be tested early as it faces Class 3A power Cedar Rapids Xavier in the season opener Friday in Cedar Rapids. Xavier handed Regina one of its two defeats over the past six years in the eighth game of last season.
The players and coaches don’t dwell on Regina’s dominance, but they don’t shy away from it, either.
“We want to build on it,” Cook said. “They should know that they’re part of it to a certain extent. But ultimately, they need to take ownership that this is their team now, especially the seniors. A lot of these guys haven’t started. They haven’t played a lot in championship games. So this will be their time.
“Your senior year probably is the year that you’ll remember the most. So a lot of these guys want to make sure they go out on the right foot.”
Conlon rarely thinks about Regina’s dominance unless somebody brings it up.
“I don’t consider it like a bad pressure,” Conlon said. “It’s kind of like a privilege to be able to say that. We don’t think about it too much. We just kind of focus week by week.”
Regina’s roster size is down slightly from a year ago with approximately 40 players. But the way Rapp sees it, Regina is more about quality than quantity.
“I don’t think we have a lot of guys, but everybody that have we can play,” Rapp said. “So everyone is fighting for a position and you have to come out and earn it every day.”
Cook sees a lot of similarities in the current team to the teams that started Regina’s current stretch of dominance.
“I see it similar to a team from probably five or six years ago,” Cook said. “A lot of new faces, but enough of the guys that have been in the trenches and know what it takes to kind of take that leadership role and show everybody what is needed to make sure we’re maximizing how good this team can be.”