By Pat Harty
Your Prep Sports
IOWA CITY – Last season could’ve easily unraveled for the City High football team after it started 0-2 and lost the services of standout quarterback Nate Wieland to injuries.
But then something special happened.
The Little Hawks defied the odds by overcoming the early adversity to win eight of their final 10 games, finishing 8-4 overall and advancing to the Class 4A quarterfinals.
Wieland is now healthy and so is the team’s mindset, largely because of how the players rallied to overcome adversity last season.
“It made us realize how important each one of us is to team and just made us pull together,” said senior center Lewis Howard. “And I think we’re going to carry that on into this season and bring up the junior class.”
The Little Hawk community lost somebody very important when team manager Martin Luna died in June after a two-year battle with cancer.
The players are determined to honor his legacy, along with City’s rich legacy in football in which making the playoffs is expected.
And they plan to achieve their goals by playing fast on offense.
City’s offensive line is undersized, but compensates with quickness, by being fundamentally sound and by blocking for talented skill players, led by the 6-foot-2, 215-pound Wieland.
“We can accomplish a lot of things,” said senior right guard Eduardo Estrada. “There is going to be a lot of no-huddle stuff. We’re a fast offensive line. We’re going to be really explosive off the ball. We’re just going to drive people down and get touchdowns.”
Wieland is eager to play at a fast pace because he thinks it’ll give the Little Hawks an advantage.
“We’re going to be fast,” Wieland said. “We’re going to be up tempo and try to move the ball down the field as quickly as we can.”
City High coach Dan Sabers is encouraged by the development of the offensive line, but still considers it the biggest concern heading into the season.
“Our offensive line play has got to get better and there is no question that it will get better,” said Sabers, who is entering his 16th season as head coach after being a long-time assistant at the school. “Some guys have worked hard and done some good things. But that was the thing that gave us problems some last year. And the guys we have now, they just weren’t that big and things of that nature.
“So we tried to get a little more size thee and get some younger kids involved. So far, I’ve been pleased. I’m not excited and pleased, that type of thing, but I’m pleased with where we’re at and I think they’re going to come along. But I would say right off the top that would be the biggest concern.”
The only positive from Wieland barely playing in one full game last season is that his absence allowed for classmate Jared Taylor to blossom as a quarterback. Taylor passed for 2,037 yards and 17 touchdowns last season.
Wieland is expected to start at quarterback, but Taylor is a nice insurance policy should disaster strike again. Taylor also can play tight end and is expected to help on defense as a senior this fall.
Wieland also can play receiver and starts at defensive back.
“Jared has abilities to help us other places as well, and of course, keep him prepared as a quarterback because, obviously, we found out last year you never know what can happen,” Sabers said. “And then, yeah, we want to have options.
“There is no question when you’ve got good football players you want to get them out on the field and you want to be as diverse as you can. That certainly figures into our plans.”
It is reassuring to the players and coaches to know that City High has two established quarterbacks on the roster.
“With both of them it’s like we have everything opening up,” Howard said. “We can run. We can pass. We can be aggressive and spread out the defense as we need to.”
Whoever plays quarterback will have the luxury of handing off to senior running back Bryce Frantz, who rushed for over 700 yards last season.
Senior defensive lineman Charles Johnson, senior linebacker Brock Hunger and senior defensive back Vance Dillon also will be expected to make significant contributions.
Johnson is healthy after being hobbled by injuries last season.
“Charles is a good basketball player, but he could be a much better football player,” Sabers said of Johnson. “And we didn’t have him for much of the year last year. So we’re looking forward to getting him out there and going and doing some things. He’s a guy that has a lot of versatility, too.”