A new era for Trojan football
IOWA CITY– The 2014 high school football season kicks off on Friday, Aug. 29, and for the West High Trojans, it will be the start of a new era on three counts.
First, after six seasons, head coach Brian Sauser has left the program for a position in Oklahoma. Sauser has been replaced by one of his assistants, Garrett Hartwig. Second, the old grass gridiron has been torn out and replaced by synthetic turf.
Third, the Trojans will no longer compete within the Mississippi Valley Conference (MVC), but instead in Class 4A district play.
Hartwig came to West from Muscatine High with Sauser, where he was part of Sauser’s turn-around of a struggling Muskie program. With the Trojans, it was a similar tale of taking a troubled program and building it into a successful enterprise.
“We came in here and saw some very thin times,” Hartwig said. “We’ve worked up to where we’ve had some pretty good seasons the past few years.” The Trojans were 9-2 last year, winning the division championship before falling to Bettendorf, 27-24, in the second round of the state tournament playoffs.
“I’m hoping to take a lot of the things we’ve done well over the past few years and put my own touch on some things, and move forward with what is a very tough schedule,” Hartwig said.
While he’s primarily been on the defensive side of the ball as a varsity defensive coordinator for the past few seasons, Hartwig was previously the varsity receivers’ and defensive backs’ coach. Earlier in his career he was a varsity coach at Sioux City East.
He said hearing the news that Sauser was leaving was “tough. Coach Sauser did a great job here and we appreciate everything he did,” Hartwig said. The transition, he added, was vital to the continued success of the program.
“When you have a coaching transition like this, in May, at a 4A school as important and prestigious as West, there’s going to be some trepidation.” Hartwig gives credit to the senior class and his fellow assistants for keeping the program going in the interim and expressed appreciation to the administration and Athletic Director Scott Kibby for wrapping up the process of filling the position in only three weeks.
“I’m happy and appreciate the opportunity to take this team where I’d like to see it go,” Hartwig said. “Myself and my staff are going to work very hard to get this done, and it was the senior class that really pulled this team together, we were just there to help them.”
Now that Hartwig and his staff have taken over, he said the players have embraced the new system. “It’s been a lot of fun, and a lot of hard work, and it’s a long, long way to go. It’s exciting times,” he said.
“The weather’s been great, we’ve got a brand new field we’re looking to get on for the first time… we’re excited, it’s a new chapter in West’s tradition and I’m excited to be a part of it and happy for the kids that are here to be a part of it as well.”
Hartwig said the Trojan offense has been very potent the last few years statewide, so he promoted West’s sophomore coach to continue that momentum.
“He’s an offensive-minded quarterback, and he’s doing a great job with the offense so you’ll see a lot of similarities (to recent seasons) there. We’ll want to run the ball first and throw second. Defensively, our philosophy is to simplify and to speed up. We want our kids feeling really confident, really aware of where they’re at on the field, and just let them be the kind of players they can be and to be simple and fast, and sound. That’s the whole motto.”
Conditioning, he added, is key. “We conditioned hard, we had a great summer, the guys really bought into the weight program. We’re going to be pretty tired for the first week and a half (of practice) and then we’ll start to gear up for game week and be ready to go, hopefully.”
The Iowa High School Athletic Association (IHSAA) has abolished the practice of Class 4A football playing in a conference format, and instead put the teams into districts similar to Class 3A, 2A and 1A. This move puts the Trojans in Class 4A District 7 with Davenport Central, Davenport North, Dubuque Hempstead and Pleasant Valley. Rival City High is in District 6, along with Cedar Rapids Washington and Cedar Rapids Prairie, all fellow MVC teams. Muscatine is also in District 6 while Cedar Rapids Jefferson, Cedar Rapids Kennedy and Linn-Mar are in District 5 along with Waterloo East, Waterloo West and Cedar Falls (also MVC schools).
The season opens with Kennedy coming to break in the new turf on Friday, Aug. 29. Other non-district games include West Des Moines Valley, Cedar Rapids Washington, the annual “Battle for the Boot” with City High, and Bettendorf. Hartwig called it a very tough schedule from top to bottom.
“I was sad to see the MVC (conference play) go, there’s some great traditional rivalries; a lot have been kept intact but we’ve also lost a number of them. At the same time, I’m really excited about our schedule. We play what is potentially one of the toughest schedules in the state.” District 7, he said, is right in the thick of things. “We’re playing some new schools, Hempstead will be a challenge as well, and it’s going to be good.”
The team lost 28 seniors to graduation but 26 juniors return to the team as seniors for the 2014 season.
“We’ve got guys coming back that played a lot of varsity minutes, but not a lot of varsity starters coming back. Kids like Conner Greene, John Milani, Aaron Bleil, Tyler Eads, of course, and that’s just the start of it. There’s a few other guys...when you start listing guys off you’re always going to leave somebody out, it’s dangerous.” Hartwig noted several other players will be called upon to step up as the season progresses, as has become a Trojan tradition. “With the teams we’ve had in the past we’ve been able to get a lot of guys varsity minutes. So, while we’re inexperienced where starting is concerned, we have guys who have played varsity games and we’re expecting them to handle that with the maturity of a returning letterman, a returning varsity player, which most of them are.”
Hartwig said there were some positions without a definitive name attached to them yet. “We won’t have answers for a little while, the battles (for positions) are intense, and we expect them to continue.”