With 12 returning varsity letter winners from a team that went 7-4 last year, the West Liberty High School football team has high hopes for another successful campaign despite the COVID-19 crisis in 2020.
Sixth year coach Jason Iske promises an offense that will pass as well as run the ball, a strong field goal kicking game and stingy defense as his team approaches their first game on Friday, Aug. 28, at Mediapolis. It’s the first of seven games on the regular schedule this season including five district opponents, starting with visiting Maquoketa on Sept. 11.
“We have some of the best skill players I have been around as a coach,” Iske said, noting it all starts up front where the Comets will return four offensive lineman starters as well as three defensive lineman.
“While we lost some really good players to graduation, we bring back a good number who know what it’s like to play in big games,” the coach said.
Among the returning letter winners are seven seniors including Sam Gingerich, a wide receiver and cornerback; Austin Elizalde, a tight end and linebacker; Lake Newton, a wide receiver and safety; Kobe Simon, a tight end and defensive end; David Molina, a running back and linebacker; Chance Thrasher, an offensive and defensive lineman as well as Zajit Melchor, another offensive and defensive lineman.
Juniors returning to the squad include quarterback and safety Caleb Wulf, tight end and linebacker Felipe Molina, running back and safety Jahsiah Galvan as well as offensive and defensive linemen Ruperto Martinez and Bryan Martinez.
Wulf, who played back up quarterback for most of the season last year behind Talen Dengler, completed 12 of 29 passes for 151 yards, an average of 12.5 yards per catch.
Simon is expected to lead the defense again this year, having finished third last year in tackles with 61.5 including 47 solo tackles and seven sacks to lead the team.
The coach said the Comets also return a great kicker in junior Bryan Martinez, but says the team also has a couple of good back-ups in David Molina and Jahsiah Galvan. Martinez attempted three field goals last season, making two including a 32 yarder.
Iske said the difficulty may be in finding a solid punter, with Drake Collins and Galvan both working for the job. He said the kicking game also brings back a pair of the team’s main kickoff and punt returners in Newton and Galvan.
The coach said offensively the team takes a lot of pride in being able to run or pass depending on the game plan, although the team does tend to run the ball more.
“This year we feel like we have the weapons at receiver in Gingerich, Newton, Simon, Felipe Molina, Ty Jones and Galvan as well as a good quarterback in Wulf to air it out a little more” Iske said. “Those receivers all have good hands and the ability to make defenders miss tackles in the open field.”
Defensively, the coach is counting on experience and leadership at both the front line and back end. “Simon, Melchor and Thrasher will solidify our defensive line while Newton, Galvan, and Gingerich will shut down the back of our defense,”
Iske said, pointing out David Molina will also provide “toughness and leadership” at the linebacker position and said he’ll be counting on the senior to “lead some younger, more inexperienced guys coming into this season.”
The coach said he wasn’t surprised Iowa decided to play football after the success it had this past summer in softball and baseball, which he coached for the Comets.
“Everything was fine there so I figured they’d go ahead with the football season too,” he said.
He said keeping everyone healthy will be the biggest challenge this season with the pandemic still out there. “We will be going our best to make sure we keep our kids safe,” Iske said.
The coach said although class 2A district competition includes Anamosa, Camanche, Maquoketa, Monticello and Tipton – who he described as “good from top to bottom,” he believes his Comets “have every chance to win another district title.”
He said both Tipton and Monticello were playoff teams a year ago the Comets “barely beat,” and said Camanche will have some “solid young pieces” from a team that barely missd the playoffs last season while Maquoketa is moving down a class from A. “It should be a good challenge,” Iske said.
Other members of the varsity team include sophomore Drake Collins, a running back and linebacker; Gabe Gardenier, a junior wide receiver and defensive back; Treten Vileta, a junior wide receiver and defensive back; Joe Barten, a junior wide receiver and linebacker; Bouny Cavanh, a junior wide receiver and defensive back; Joshua Zeman, a sophomore running back and defensive back; Joe Moran, a junior wide receiver and defensive back; David Martinez, a junior offensive and defensive lineman; JD Seering, a sophomore offensive lineman and linebacker; Mauricio Reed, a junior offensive and defensive lineman as well as sophomore Brayden Goody, another offensive and defensive lineman.
Iske is assisted by Brandon Lukavsky, the varsity offensive coordinator and quarterback coach; Shawn Kivi, a varsity defensive coordinator and linebacker coach. Nick Dewell, the offensive line coach; Gus Garcia, a running back and wide receiver coach as well as Zach Morris, the junior varsity offensive coordinator and wide receiver coach.
Jim Kiwala is a defensive line coach for the Comets while Taylor Larson is the defensive back coach and Brent Phelps rounds out the coaching squad as junior varsity defensive coordinator and linebacker coach.