If the West Liberty High School Comet football team are going to prove themselves worthy of getting to the UNI Dome to play for an Iowa state 2A championship, the first four games of the season may be the key to getting there.
With a flurry of talent returning from a “never-say-die” team that went 6-3 last season, seventh year coach Jason Iske couldn’t be more pleased with his team’s schedule, opening the season next Friday night, Aug. 27, against an “athletic and physical” Solon team, a 2A semifinalist a year ago.
“We come right out of the gates playing four teams who had tremendous success last season,” said Iske, whose Comets follow with a game against Iowa City Regina, the 2A state champion, before finishing that slate with a battle against Camanche, a 2A semi-finalist who eliminated the Comets last year from getting into state play.
“Those four games right away will show us where we stand this season and help get us prepared for our district and playoff runs,” said Iske.
The Comets return 13 letter winners from a year ago including nine seniors – all talented and playing key positions – as well as four juniors, but Iske is excited about the face his team will field some varsity newcomers “who are more than capable of filling in when needed.”
He said lack of numbers is a weakness on the team, but said there is a lot of talent on the team that will help the Comets again gain the playoffs “and make another run at the Dome.”
Those returning senior lettermen include linebacker and offensive lineman Joe Barten, wide receiver and defensive back Bouny Cavanh, running back and defensive back Jahsiah Galvan, offensive lineman and linebacker Bryan Martinez, running back and linebacker Gabriel Martinez, offensive and defensive lineman Felipe Molina, wide receiver and defensive back Trenten Vileta as well as quarterback and defensive back Caleb Wulf.
Returning letter winners as juniors as running back and linebacker Drake Collins, wide receiver and linebacker Joshua Zeman, offensive lineman and linebacker JD Seering and Brayden Goody, an offensive and defensive lineman.
Galvan may be the standout of the bunch, running for 1,673 yards a year ago at 8.6 yards per carry, scoring 14 touchdowns in 194 carries. No other back had more than 75 yards last season, Collins carrying the ball 19 times.
Wulf threw for 584 yards last season in completing 57 of 121 passes for 47.1 percent, including three touchdowns including six passes to Zeman for 207 yards.
Defensively, the Comets were led by Collins and Galvan, who each had 54 tackles while Molina had 38.5. Galvan also led the team in interceptions with four to his credit.
Special teams may also be a strong point this year for the Comets, Galvan averaging nearly 20 yards a return on his four kickoff returns last year while fielding six punts and average returns of 16.3.
Bryan Martinez led the team in kickoffs last year with 18 and booted a field goal in two tries from 34 yards while Galvan also kicked a 29-yard field goal. Martinez was 11-16 in PAT attempts while Galvan was perfect in his four kicks. Galvan also averaged 37.5 yards per punt in his 22 kicks this past season.
Iske says the Comets are fortunate to have a talent like Galvan. “He is definitely one of the best players in the state of Iowa regardless of position. His versatility on offense, defense, and special teams allows us to do some different things against each opponent depending on their strengths and weaknesses.”
The coach says Galvan has also stepped up his leadership role. “His leadership this year has also been a nice surprise and he has kept some of our other players focused when needed,” Iske said.
The coach said the “biggest thing” the Comets need to do offensively “is being more consistent” with execution. “Whether it's remembering the snap count, doing the right job on each play, or playing with proper technique to the whistle, we need to be more consistent,” Iske said.
The coach said the team’s strengths lie with the seniors on the team. “We have good leadership from Jahsiah Galvan, Caleb Wulf, and Felipe Molina. Those guys have done a good job of setting expectations and practicing with good intensity.
The coach said positionally it's difficult to really choose the team’s strengths “because we feel really confident in all of the players we have out there.” He said it’s obvious Galvan will draw a lot of attention from opponents, “but we have guys who are very capable of making plays if he is taken away.”
Defensively the Comets look to be solid upfront with the defensive line and linebackers leading the way. “We have five or six guys there who are returning starters and are really aggressive,” Iske said.
The coach said conditioning would be a key to the team’s success because of lack of numbers. “We will have quite a few guys who will play multiple roles and not leave the field very often,” he said.
Defense will also be a key for the Comets. “I think the number one thing we are looking for from our defense is getting teams off the field on third downs,” Iske said. “We have done a good job the last couple of years of limiting our opponents from scoring and keep their yards per play down, but we need to get our opponents' offense off the field sooner so we can get more of an advantage from having better field position.”
West Liberty also has some key returners on special teams including the team’s top two kickers and punters along with Galvan as a kick returner. “Finding guys who can fill in the important roles on kickoff and punt coverage will be key for us,” the coach said.
The coach said the opener is a key match-up for the Comets. “Solon is one of those teams that is always in the top tier of teams in the state and we have to be ready for everything they are going to bring at us,” Iske said. “It should be an excellent opener for us and a game we will be able to come away and learn from regardless of how we perform.”