Waukon football team returns 16 letterwinners in quest for return to play-offs

Left to right - Front row: Alex Brink, Mitchell Snitker, Brenan Folsom, Carver Conway, Andrew Dickson, Tristan Hansmeier, Peyton Hesse, Nathan Benzing, Max Swartz, Austin Hogan, Dawston Regan. Middle row: Adam Drew, Isaiah Welch, Aaron Sherman, Joe Frieden, Brandon Regan, Colin Steiber, Nick Johnson, Chris Miller, Abe Schwartz, Brayden Mulholland, Carson Schwartzhoff, Kyle Gordon. Back row: Michael Schulte, Tanner Peterson, Chance Opperman, Ethan Krueger, Lukas Larson, Haden Hammel, Evan Armstead, Wyatt Wille, Jadon Johnson, Blain Swenson, Dalton Brookins, Landon Berns, Jared Campbell, Tanner Mathis, Colin Waters. Not pictured: Patrick Mahr.

The misfortune of the 2014 Waukon football season could very well play into a strong advantage for the 2015 Indian grid campaign, as season-ending injuries suffered by a small handful of team-leading seniors early last fall opened the door for several underclassmen to gain experience that will be most beneficial for the football Tribe this season. A total of 16 varsity letterwinners return for the Indians, with half of those veterans playing a majority of snaps on both sides of the football last season during the Tribe’s 3-6 overall campaign that was just a handful of plays away from a third consecutive State Play-Off berth.
“We have a very experienced group, many have hit the weight room hard and the results should show on the field,” third-year Waukon football coach Chad Beermann claimed. “We have a small junior class, so the experienced players will need to show leadership for the newcomers. We are in the low 50s for numbers (grades 9-12), with a few deciding football was not for them once practice started.”
Within that veteran core are a dozen seniors, including Peyton Hesse, Haden Hammel, Wyatt Wille, Austin Hogan, Colin Steiber, Chris Miller, Joe Frieden, Adam Drew, Nick Johnson, Patrick Mahr, Michael Schulte and Dawston Regan. Juniors Tanner Mathis, Brandon Regan, Blain Swenson and Max Swartz round out this season’s list of seasoned returnees from last year’s squad and lead a group of just nine players in their grade.
“As noted, we have a small group of juniors, but the ones we have are a dedicated bunch,” Coach Beermann said. “That dedication helps forge a team. Depth is a concern. Because of the size of the junior class, more sophomores will have to be used to help fill in the two-deep roster. The sophomore class has been very competitive, and some of the juniors have made huge strides in the past year. I believe this was our best summer in the weight room in the three seasons I have been here.”
But instead of focusing on what may not be there for this season’s squad, Coach Beermann is concentrating on the abundance of returning experience that will be the foundation of this season’s club, including the all-important big men up front. “All five starting offensive linemen either started or played significant amounts of time last year,” he said of his trench troops. “Almost all the offensive skill position players return as well. We also return the majority of last year’s front seven on defense. We return half of last year’s secondary, but both cornerbacks will be new. We need to replace two defensive backs and one defensive lineman, as well as one offensive lineman and two wingbacks.”
This season’s returning core also brings with it a majority of last season’s statistical leadership, including some record-setting measures. Hesse returns to a quarterback position from where he threw for new Waukon football single-season standards of 1,505 yards and 19 touchdowns on 111 pass completions. His leading target also returns in Wille, who hauled in team highs of 443 yards and five touchdowns on 24 catches. Hogan and Steiber also bring their own set of statistical leadership numbers with 412 yards and seven touchdowns on 74 carries for Hogan and 57.5 tackles for Steiber.
Putting together the puzzle of experienced and newcomer pieces will be the key to determining this season’s outcome, with Coach Beermann knowing full well that good fortune is also a necessary factor. “Injuries always play a part,” he explained. “We need to open the season well against outstanding competition, and build from there.”
And should all those factors fall into favorable alignment, the third-year coach sees no reason why this season’s team couldn’t be taking part in some additional football come play-off time. “I believe the play-offs are a realistic goal,” he said. “Our district is very strong, and the team who finishes fourth in this district might have a legitimate shot to knock off some other district’s champion. I believe we should be a play-off team, and if we can hit on all cylinders we can beat any team on our schedule.”
Those cylinders will need to be cranking early, as the football Tribe’s first five games of the season will feature three State Play-Off semifinalists, including the defending Class 2A State Champion. In fact, the top three qualifying teams from the Tribe’s Class 2A District 3, Dyersville Beckman, New Hampton and North Fayette Valley, were each part of the final eight teams in last season’s Class 2A State Play-Offs, with Beckman and North Fayette Valley making up half of Class 2A’s “final four” and North Fayette Valley advancing on to win that Class 2A State Championship after having to defeat Beckman to do so.
“North Fayette Valley is the defending State Champions, and so they start as king of the mountain,” Coach Beermann reasoned. “They lost a tremendous senior class, but there won’t be a tremendous drop-off, especially on their lines. Dyersville Beckman was a State semi-finalist last year, and will probably be better this year. New Hampton will take a slight step back, but they are still talented and well coached. CPU (Center Point-Urbana, the fourth and final State-qualifying team from District 3 last season) kept us out of the play-offs last year, and they are a bit of an unknown. They graduated a good senior class, so we’ll see how they fare early on. Oelwein has been on an uptick after several poor seasons; their kids play hard and seem to be improving.  Columbus is a bit of an unknown. They were more competitive last year, but still struggled most of the season.”
The Indians are scheduled to begin their 2015 campaign on the road with Class 1A State Play-Off semifinalist South Winneshiek this Friday, August 28, followed by back-to-back non-district games against fellow Northeast Iowa Conference schools who yet remain among the Class 3A ranks, at home against Decorah Friday, September 4 and at Crestwood Friday, September 11. Two early district measuring sticks will then face the gridiron Tribe to start their Class 2A District 3 schedule in the semifinalist pair of Dyersville Beckman, who comes to town Friday, September 18, and defending Class 2A State Champion North Fayette Valley, who will host the Indians Friday, September 25. The Tribe will continue to alternate home and away games to finish out its regular season.
“We are looking forward to getting the season going,” Coach Beermann summarized. “Our fans will get to see some of the best teams in three classes this season, and the games should be outstanding.”