Colby football sets eyes on Marawood crown
For the first time since 1978, the Colby Hornets football team finds itself in a new conference, trading the Cloverbelt for the Marawood in 2020.
Head coach Jim Hagen and his Hornets will also have to navigate the ups and downs of the coronavirus pandemic.
Then there’s finding a way to replace the production that 13 seniors took with them. Oh, and let’s not forget the opposing team across the field.
It helps that Hagen has a strong group of juniors and sophomores that all have big play potential.
“We got some very skilled players and some athletes that are just football smart,” Hagen says about the 2020 Hornets. “They understand the plays and how they develop and where to be and how to position yourself. A very overall athletic group that really enjoys playing football and enjoys being part of athletics in general.”
Among those departed seniors from 2019 is quarterback Roman Schmitt, but dual-threat quarterback Brent Jeske, a 6’2”, 207 pound junior who is being scouted by NCAA D-I teams, is ready to fill those big shoes.
“It’s a good thing to have in your arsenal when you have a quarterback like that. When you got a dual threat quarterback that does change some things that you can do with the run and pass,” Hagen says about what Jeske brings to the offense.
Jeske has a big arm, but don’t expect Colby to deviate too much from their devastating run game. But if you want to successfully run the ball, it starts with the offensive line. The Hornets lose All-Conference lineman Connor Jeske, along with fellow senior Alex Holtz, but Colby has plenty of beef up front to get the job done.
“It’s a very big offensive line. Our front five is going to go probably 230 pounds.”
One of the biggest additions on the offensive line is junior Carter Grewe. Grewe was a fullback last year, but with his size and tenacity, Hagen says Grewe is perfect on the O-line.
“It’s a new position for Carter, and there’s going to be some growing pains, but he’s picking up things very fast.”
There’s also another Jeske in the trenches, with Derek Jeske, along with Cory Steen and Cristo Lopez to anchor the O-line.
“I like what we see so far,” Hagen says about the O-line. “It’s going to take time, but I think the more we get into the season the better they’re going to be.”
Harley Schmelzer and Isaac Karl are gone as receivers, but the biggest loss is Tyler Klement, who ran for over 2,600 yards in two seasons.
Hagen is looking to establish the ground game by committee rather than a bell-cow back, and he’s got big plans for seniors Joe Hawthorne and Ross Elmhorst, along with junior Mason Voss.
“We moved Joe Hawthorne to fullback just because if we kept him at wing-back he’s just not going to touch the ball enough.
“Then we got some other guys that can run too - you got Mason Voss, Ross Elmhorst and a sophomore coming up by the name of Caden Healey. He’s a good player now, but he’s going to be even better when he’s older.”
If Colby’s offense is electric, their defense is more akin to a wall - big and immovable. Colby brings back a plethora of skilled players on defense, with linebackers Tristan Stange and Brent Jeske coming in to make sacks, and a D-line stabilized by the likes of Derek Jeske, Cory Steen, Grew and others.
Colby will be switching to a man-to-man scheme, which comes courtesy of defensive coordinator Logan Rosemeyer.
“The switch to the man-toman is an overall philosophy that Coach Rosemeyer is bringing in. He’s a young up and coming coach and he’s very knowledgeable about football.”
Arguably the biggest obstacle to the season isn’t on the field, but what happens off the field.
As COVID-19 cases tick upward, the season has had a late start, and already the schedule and opponents have been shuffled multiple times. Hagen knows the season could be over in an instant, and he’s tailored his expectations to match the uncertainty of the year.
“A successful season is to get as many games in as you can,” Hagen says. “I feel like it’s day by day and sometimes it feels like it’s hour by hour. But if we do get our games in, my feeling is that we have a chance to be a pretty good football team. I expect to win a lot more games than we are going to lose.”
Colby is also in the Marawood Conference this year, which will pit Colby against Abbotsford for the first time since 1967, while also giving them a chance to go against D-7 powerhouse Edgar.
“I’m not going to lie, I would have preferred to stay in the Cloverbelt Conference, just because I liked our rivals and thought it was a very competitive conference. But are we excited to play some of the new schools like Edgar or Abbotsford? Absolutely.”