Football players reflect on historic season, but stress there’s more to come

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Members of the MFL MarMac football team recently shared some thoughts on their historic season. Pictured (sitting, left to right) are Cullen McShane, Chaise Ziegler, Kutter Anderson, Michael Knickerbocker, Cedrick Drahn, Gabe McGeough; (back) Eli Johnson, Ethan Stubbs, Hunter Goltz, Max Havlicek and Jackson Landt. (Photo by Audrey Posten)

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times

The first district title in school history, the first winning season since 1992, and the only 9-0 undefeated regular season in school history—to say it’s been a historic year for the MFL MarMac football program is an understatement. But when the postseason starts this Friday, the players want to make one thing clear: they’re not done yet.

“We are doing something we haven’t done in a long time, but we’re taking it as if we’re not satisfied,” said junior Max Havlicek, who was one of 11 players that recently sat down to reflect on the team’s success. “We’re not looking back at the season yet. We still have so much more to prove.”

Coming off an improved 4-5 2018 campaign—the first under head coach Dan Anderson—helped set the tone this year, said sophomore Cullen McShane. Falling just short of a winning season made the team hungry to do better.

“I think, last year, we were just getting started with a new coach. He knew how to work us, and work us hard, and now we’re here,” he shared. “We put a lot of work in to be here.”

That included a summer of weight lifting with the highest attendance the players have ever seen. And they spent that time working rather than socializing, stressed sophomore Gabe McGeough.

Then, he added, “we stayed extra and [quarterback Cedrick Drahn] would throw the ball around to guys, and we’d start running routes before camp even started.”

Drahn said team members also continued to watch film, looking for areas to work on this time around. 

They headed into the season confident and expecting to win. There were doubters outside the locker room, though, including a pre-season prediction from The Gazette that placed MFL MarMac second to last in Class A District 5.

“That’s on our locker room bulletin board now,” Drahn said.

“Everybody that doubted us before, we just use it to fuel us,” Havlicek noted.

The Bulldogs made a bold statement in game one, defeating rival South Winneshiek 44-28. 

“That got us started,” stated senior Ethan Stubbs.

“That was one of the toughest games we had on our schedule,” said Drahn, “and when we won, we knew people were watching now.”

“You’ve only got one opportunity to make a first impression,” added senior Jackson Landt, “and I think we capitalized on that.”

Within a few weeks, the team was state-ranked and continuing to rack up the wins. Larger news outlets began to take notice, and game attendance grew.

But the players were careful not to let it go to their heads, mentioned senior running back Kutter Anderson. 

“Coach Anderson always tells us, ‘Just worry about what’s six inches in front of your face,’ and we kind of like to live by that,” he remarked. “Don’t focus ahead. Just worry about what’s at hand now.”

“For must of us, we weren’t thinking ahead,” McGeough said. “Week one we’re thinking 1-0, then we’re thinking we’re 0-0 going into every week and we want to be 1-0. We don’t really think too much about how many games we’ve won—it’s about winning every week.”

That doesn’t mean they don’t appreciate the well wishes from fans and community members. 

“At gas stations, people will come up and talk to you. That’s never really happened before,” Stubbs noted.

“They’re just always pushing us to keep going,” said Anderson, “and that really fuels us too.”

The players said their teammates have also created a culture of positivity that inspires them to do their best.

“This year,” said Havlicek, “we all kind of lead by our own example. We don’t have one just set guy.”

Landt said there’s mutual respect and accountability. Everyone takes their duties seriously.

“There are a lot of leaders, and everybody’s got something to say,” shared sophomore Hunter Goltz. “It feels like the whole team is showing up to make us better.”

This work ethic stems from the coaching staff.

“They try to get our full potential out of us in practice so it comes out in the game,” said freshman Michael Knickerbocker. 

“The way the coaches handle themselves, they show us how to be men,” noted McGeough. “We’re not disrespecting anybody, and they give a good example for us to follow.”

The players are especially appreciative of their head coach, Anderson, whom many played under while they were in middle school. 

“There’s that trust, that relationship,” said senior Eli Johnson. “We know him, we know he can coach. He’s a great role model for us.”

McGeough labeled Anderson one of the most passionate coaches he’s ever played under. 

“You can just see it in his eyes,” he said. “When he says we’re going to beat a team, he believes it with everything he’s got. That makes you believe it too.”

“Now,” said Anderson, “as we kept winning, our expectations grew, and we started practicing like a playoff team. Now we’re trying to practice like a state title-caliber team.”

The season has been an especially memorable one for the seniors. Landt said they play with a special intensity, knowing their football games are limited.

“That makes you stop and take it in a little more,” he reflected. “I don’t think anybody wants to have any regrets about the season.”

The class, said Stubbs, has persevered through a lot.

“We took our lumps our freshman and sophomore years, and we just grew together and stuck it out and took the lumps,” he confided. “Now we’re reaping the rewards.”

But he was quick to credit the younger players too.

“I feel like, when we leave, this entire team is going to be remembered, not just the senior class,” he said.

“The younger people are pushing just as hard to do something special,” agreed Johnson. “It’s a team effort. Everybody is working for that goal to be the best we can be.”

That’s something Havlicek said will always stick with him.

“After the season’s all said and done, I’ll look back at this team and I’ll always look up to it and try to make a team like this,” he shared. “It’s setting the bar, an example of what it should be.”

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