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Clippers Chart a new course

Gabe Bakker takes over CCA football
Gabe Bakker, Clear Creek Amana’s new head football coach. Bakker replaces the coaching father and son duo of Ronnie and Matt Hughes (who resigned in March) Bakker comes to CCA from a successful program in Pleasantville.

TIFFIN– Rough waters hit the Clear Creek Amana (CCA) varsity football program back in March when head co-coaches Matt and Ronnie Hughes resigned in the wake of some turmoil within the program. The father (Ronnie) and son (Matt) duo took over the program in 2013 and had a 4-5 showing at the end of their debut season. The school’s first-ever District Championship and a 7-2 record came a year later. Last year, the Clippers went 5-2 in district play and were 7-2 overall, with an eye toward another playoff appearance (the Creek Boys made it to the first round of the postseason in 2015). However, a new playoff format only took the top two teams from each district. The Creek Boys were third. However, the sting of being left out was tempered somewhat by a 6-0 record, another first for the program.
Gabe Bakker, then the head coach for the Pleasantville Trojans, rose to the top of the list of candidates to fill the vacancy. Bakker spent five years at Pleasantville, and much like the Hugheses, took the program from despair to success. The Trojans were a 3-6 program his first year but went 9-2 and were in the playoffs in 2015 before falling out in the second round of Class 1A action. The team went 8-2 overall and 6-1 in Class 1A District 5, good for second place in the district and their third-consecutive playoff appearance (’14, ’15 and ’16).
Bakker is a graduate of the Dike-New Hartford school district and played football for Iowa State University. After college he taught and was an assistant football coach at Valley High School in West Des Moines for seven years before taking over the Pleasantville program. Seeing an opening for Clear Creek Amana was a bit of a shock, but Bakker said, he knew right away it was an ideal opportunity.
“The opportunity (to coach at CCA) came up, it kinda surprised us (Bakker and his wife), but it checked off all of our wants and needs as a family, and we were lucky enough to land jobs,” he said.
In addition to coaching, Bakker will serve as an at-risk teacher in the high school (after twelve years of teaching math) while she will teach at the elementary level. He cited CCA being a growing district, the facilities and the district’s proximity to metropolitan areas as factors making the district attractive. “I think there’s a lot of great opportunities for our kids here as well.”
Bakker sees great opportunities for the Clippers also, and having been a part of three State Titles at Valley, he knows what it takes to make it to the UNI Dome (home to the State High School Football Championships).
“As an assistant coach I learned a lot from being a part of that, and we’re trying to take some of those little things and incorporate them.”
Bakker said he applied lessons learned at Pleasantville, and now is inculcating the Creek Boys with them too.
Moving from a 1A program to a 3A (likely to be 4A in the coming years) mostly means more depth on the sidelines, but also, “more headaches, sometimes (said with a smile).” “What it comes down to is building relationships with the kids, getting them to work hard, getting them to buy-in to one system.” He added, “That’s what we’re trying to do, and that’s what it takes to win.”
Bakker, like the Hughes’ before him, stressed while wins are nice, it’s the overall development of the student athletes into productive members of society that takes precedent.
“At the end of the day, that’s what we’re all here to do; to educate young men into men, make them better husbands, fathers, brothers and friends,” he said. “If we don’t do that, that’s a disservice to them. Winning football games, we all want to do that. But when it’s all said and done, I hope we can all build something together and have a good relationship.”
Bakker credits the Hughes’ for how they’ve shaped the program.
“All you can do,” he said, “is try to keep the good things they had going, but also try to make the program my own and try to build upon that. I think they’ve done a lot of great things here. The Hughes’ really set the tone, showed them what it was to be successful. So I’m trying to take what they’ve (the players) learned, but also incorporate some of what I’ve learned and try and get this (program) a little bit higher.”
The new coach has a set of simple expectations for his debut season.
“I want our kids to play hard, play together and just have fun. Get after it. That’s what it’s all about. If we do our jobs and do it together, I have all the confidence in the world we’re going to end up being successful.”
Bakker inherits a squad led by six returning seniors; Matt Brimeyer, Cade Gallagher, Dillon Wildman, Dylan Sheely, Tanner Cochran and David Jensen. Brimeyer is a running back/linebacker who racked up 731 yards of rushing last year with six touchdowns. Gallagher is a fullback/defensive lineman with 209 rushing yards, seven touchdowns and seven total tackles. Wildman is an offensive tackle, Sheely is a safety with 3.5 total tackles while Cochran is a tight end/defensive end with 22 total tackles and three sacks, and Jensen is a linebacker with 13 total tackles.
Andrew Rohret returns as a junior tight end/defensive end with 26 total tackles.
New to the Creek Boys’ line up are Ethan Postler, a senior quarterback with, “a lively arm,” and Jonah Upah, a junior offensive lineman/defensive lineman. Bakker described Upah as, “A big strong kid, should start both ways.”
As would be expected, some things have caught the new coach’s eyes, both good and possibly problematic. Bakker listed team speed, depth in the skill positions, kicker and overall program numbers as strengths, but also seed depth on the lines, inexperience and a new system as concerns.
“I feel that every year is wide open,” he said looking at the district. “Each team will be different from the year before. That being said, I feel West Delaware, Marion and (Davenport) Assumption will all be very good.” All teams in the district will be improved, he added. “It will be a tough district to make the playoffs in.” He added, there are no easy districts in Class 3A. “It’s gonna be exciting, each week you gotta be ready to go, but I think it’s a good challenge.”
The season opens Friday, Aug. 25, at home as Mount Pleasant visits for a 7:15 p.m. varsity kick-off.