Coming off playoff stint, Lynx oozing with confidence entering season
By Troy Banning, DFJ Sports Editor
Howard has already heard it and, heck, he's even fueled the fire. He wants everyone to believe his team is going through the rebuilding process just one year removed from the program's first trip to the Class 3A state playoffs since 1996. He wants opposing teams to lapse into a false sense of security.
That's when Howard knows he's got them. Because and, shhh!, let's just keep this between you and me he thinks this fall's version of the Webster City football team is going to be pretty fierce.
"I'm real comfortable with where we are and I'm also comfortable with everybody thinking we have absolutely nothing coming back," Howard, who will enter his 33rd year overall on the sideline with an impressive career record of 259-67 when the Lynx travel to Dysart to face Union at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, said recently. "Outside of Webster City, that's how it's all going to be portrayed, too. But I think we're fine. I don't know that I've ever went into a season where our goal wasn't to get to the playoffs, and that's a legitimate goal for this team."
Last season's Lynx broke through an invisible barrier that was in front of the program for far too long. In only Howard's second season in charge, Webster City compiled a 7-4 record, placed second in 3A District 2, and won a postseason game over Dallas Center-Grimes, 20-14 in the substate round, before finally falling to Carroll, 41-26 in the first round of the playoffs.
There was a four-game win streak and more than 3,100 yards of rushing offense out of Howard's now legendary single wing attack. But now it's gone.
Webster City has the daunting task of trying to replace the district's most productive backfield. Tailback John Hill chewed up 1,424 ground yards one of the 10 best single-season performances in school history and scored 17 touchdowns, while wingback Kevin Kannuan piled up 562 yards and spinback Brent Nelson added 501 rushing yards. All three are expected to return to Lynx Field this season as spectators.
"We'll obviously miss Hill, Nelson, (tailback Ross) Haren and Kannuan," Howard said. "That senior class from last year, there was a lot of contributions it made besides what people saw on the field. They helped to change the attitude and the climate, and they made the work ethic in the strength and conditioning program normal. And this year's group of seniors has really bought into that and we are going to be a good deal more physical. We're more physical because these kids have been lifting now for going on three full years.
"This group will play hard and they hit, and I think that's exciting. They're going to make some mistakes because we've got a lot of new kids, but they're also going to make some plays."
Senior Dalton Keane will be handed the keys to the Webster City offense. The 6-foot-2, 185-pounder will take over for Nelson at spinback after a successful stint as the junior varsity team's quarterback a year ago. Keane is new to the spinback position, but his speed, size and ability to run and throw the ball make him the perfect candidate for the job, Howard said.
"Dalton Keane is going to be a big surprise I think," Howard, who is 10-10 in his two years at Webster City, said. "Dalton has a really good arm and he can runhe's one of the fastest spinbacks that's I've ever coached. Now, how fast he learns to control the game, that will be the key. But I think he'll do very well and if he doesn't then we've got (sophomore) Johnny Davis behind him, and Johnny is a dang good second option."
Lined up beside Keane in the backfield will be senior tailback Ben Rasmussen and senior wingback Clayton Nessa. Senior Jacob Bullock will serve as the blocking back.
Rasmussen started most of last season at a linebacker position. While it's true that the diminutive senior didn't carry the ball a single time last season not in a varsity or junior varsity game Howard still expects him to be a handful for the opposition.
"There's definitely going to be a difference between Hill and Haren and Ben," Howard said. "Ben might not go 80 yards, but he'll go 30 to 40 and he'll also get the 4. He has looked really good and he's another one that worked really hard on his speed and quickness in the offseason."
On the outside at the tight end positions will be Bryan Johnson and Nate Yanda, both seniors. Classmate Zach Lind and sophomore Andrew May will also see time at an end spot.
The Lynx will be inexperienced up front as well. Senior guard James Hartley is the only member of the unit that saw significant playing time last season, but that doesn't seem to bother Howard.
"The line is what's exciting to me," he said. "These guys have all put on a lot of weight and it was really neat watching them work their butts off to do it."
Lining up at center arguably the most important position in the single wing offense will be sophomore Tony Anderson. Hartley and Nick Erritt will be at guard, while Justin Crouch and Alex Anderson are expected to start at tackle. Cody Mosbach will likely see significant time at a tackle spot as well after he recovers from a broken hand.
If there was a glaring weakness on the 2008 Lynx squad, it was on the defensive side of the ball. Who can forget Algona quarterback John Gifford terrorizing Webster City for 418 rushing yards last September?
Howard was none too happy when Gifford went berserk out of the Bulldogs' option attack. But he'll be even more livid if some other player gets within a galaxy of those numbers this season.
"Defensively, I think we're much more physical up front and at linebacker just because of that year the kids have had to grow," Howard said. "I'm looking forward to seeing what this defense does because I think it's a pretty good outfit."
Webster City will shift to a 4-3 scheme with Caleb Miller and either Hartley or Johnson on the outside at the defensive end positions. A slew of players Anderson, Crouch, Tim Gillette, Dalton Clark and Jose Garcia will get reps at tackle.
"We've got four or five tackles that can all play in there and they've all got some size," Howard said. "These guys aren't going to get run over."
Howard is particularly encouraged by the preseason performances of his linebackers. Senior Tyler Moen started there last year and he'll be flanked by sophomore Luke Shannon and senior Kit Paper. Rasmussen one of the team's premier linebackers last year will be kept out of the rotation if possible in order to keep him fresh.
"This is as good as our linebackers have looked in a long time," Howard said. "Tyler has been playing with a great attitude and he's being a leader for this defense. Luke's a good one and Kit's grown a lot as well."
Keane and senior Tanner Jensen will likely get the nods at cornerback, while Lind and Nessa will be at the safety positions. Davis, May, Daniel Stoakes and Andrew Monson will also see plenty of the field.
LYNX SPECIAL TEAMS
Who had the best special teams in District 2 a year ago? That's maybe the easiest question to answer: it was Webster City.
The Lynx gained on average 13 yards on each exchange because of the talents of punter Ryan Vande Zande and punt/kickoff return man Nate Treibel. Both were part of the talented graduated senior class, which means Webster City has some important openings it's looking to fill.
"Speical teams are a big deal and we had really good special teams last year," Howard said. "We didn't have a punt blocked and we didn't have one returned on us last year, and then we returned two on opponents. So that's a concern for us this year."
Keane will also serve as the punter, although the interviews for the position of return man have yet to be completed.
3A DISTRICT 2
Webster City won't be the favorite to win the championship when District 2 play gets underway during Week 3 of the regular season. But the Lynx won't be the official doormat for the rest of the district either.
Perennial powerhouse Clear Lake is again the fashionable preseason pick to take one of the district's postseason berths, and Howard isn't straying from the norm. But after that it's wide open.
"Clear Lake has got some kids back and they're still going to be Clear Lake," Howard said. "When you're on top and you're used to winning like Clear Lake does, that's a big thing.
"But after that I think it's really balanced. There's nobody on paper where you can say, well, we can work on next week. The good part of that is Webster City isn't that for anybody now either like last year when we played four homecomings. I don't think people are just going to inherently pick us for homecoming because they think that will be an easy one."
Forest City returns a bevy of talented skill-position players, namely all-district quarterback Andrew Rosacker and speedy wide receiver Jeff Arends. Waverly-Shell Rock was plenty tough last fall, and the Go-Hawks will now lean on a junior class that went unbeaten at the JV level in 2008. Algona is always tough, and the list goes on and on and on.
"It's going to be really interesting," Howard said. "So much for us revolves around us staying healthy. If we can avoid injuries at key spots, I think we have a chance to be pretty good."
The Daily Freeman Journal
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