|Coach discusses Comets football|
by Norv and Mary Coblentz · September 04, 2013
The West Liberty football team is gearing up for a tough season, and they have been working hard to prepare for it.
The Offensive Line
"We were pleased this summer with our seven on seven drills and the chemistry this team seems to have," West Liberty Head Coach Ben Slife said. "I expect our kicking game to be solid this season as well with Raudel Fierro being a weapon for us to score as soon as we get into the red zone."
Fierro is one of several returning key players for the team. There are six offensive starters returning. Senior Brett Becker (6'2", 180 lbs.) was a third-team Iowa Preps All-State selection and a first-team All-District wide receiver last season. He'll be making the switch from wide receiver to quarterback this season.
"We are very pleased with Brett's leadership and athletic ability," Slife said. "(He is) one of the most football-intelligent players I have ever been around."
Riley Anderson (5'7", 160 lbs.), a senior this season who started some of last season's games, is a running back. "Riley had a great playoff game against Albia, and we look for him to continue to be a playmaker for us all season long," Slife said.
Troy Heick (6'4", 190 lbs.), another senior, returns as a running back. Heick was a starter some of last season. "We are really looking forward to seeing Troy use his athleticism to come out this season and be a tough matchup for whomever he lines up against," Slife said. "He has great speed and size, and is primed to have a breakout season."
Senior Sergio Zamora (5'9", 265 lbs.) is a returning offensive line starter. "We believe Sergio will be the leader for the offensive line," Slife said. "(He) is a very intelligent player and is our quarterback of the offensive line."
Tyler Lyon (6'4", 315 lbs.), a part-time starter last season, is also a senior. He will be a member of the offensive line. "Tyler has surprisingly good feet for a man his size," Slife said. "He has put a lot of time into the weight room this season, and we expect him to be a tough player for us this season."
The other offensive starter is senior Christian Garcia(5'11", 275 lbs.), who was a starter last season.
"Christian was a tough and rugged blocker for us last season," Slife said. "He also has put the time into the weight room and looks to build off of last season."
The Defensive Line
There are five returning defensive starters from last year's team. Elliot Henderson (5'9", 140 lbs.) is a senior defensive back this year and earned Honorable Mention All-District last season. "Elliot leads our returning players in tackles with 82 stops from a season ago," Slife said. "Elliot, pound for pound, is the best hitter on the team."
Riley Anderson will also be a linebacker for the Comets. "Anderson is next in returning tackles (66) and looks to have a strong senior season on defense," Slife said. "Riley was an Honorable Mention pick in our district last season, and we expect him to have a great senior season."
Senior Edgar Castillo (5'6", 155 lbs.), started last season. "Castillo gets to the ball with hustle and grit," Slife said. "Edgar had 47 stops a season ago."
Carl Guardado (6', 175 lbs.) is a senior this season. "Carl was a part-time starter for us last season and finished with five sacks and 29 total tackles," Slife said.
Troy Heick was a part-time starter on defense last season. "When Heick was healthy last season, he was a starter for us," Slife said. "Troy will be playing more of an influential role for us this season, and if we can keep him healthy, I expect him to have an all-district type season."
Three other players return this season: seniors Kohl Wheeler, Robert Torres and junior Dylan Van Dusen.
Slife identified several players as key newcomers: sophomores Cooper Koenig and Brady Smith, juniors Sam Weaver, Mason Tvrs, Noel Palma, Tanner Mueller, Matt Kelly, and J.P. Jepsen and seniors Trevor Schneider and Jesus Garcia.
The 2012 West Liberty team finished with a 6-5 record and finished third in Class 2A District 5.
"We had an up and down season and finished the season strong by beating an 8-1 team at Albia in the playoffs for the second straight season," Slife said. "We struggled to stay healthy last season, which will actually help us now, because we were able to get several kids starting playing time last season as underclassmen.
“I see our strengths (this season) being in our skill positions. We have a lot of players that have been very successful in the past and didn't have a lot of playing time to display what they are capable of,” he added.
The team lost a lot of key players from last season to graduation, including the starting quarterback, Tyler Newsom. "Tyler finished the season as second-team All-State punter and first-team All-District quarterback," Slife said.
"Our defense lost a lot of playmakers up front on the defensive line and linebackers," Slife said. "We have talented players to step in, but they must get adjusted quickly. We must have someone step up at our tailback position and be a threat. I expect Trevor Schneider and Sam Weaver to battle it out there."
"Our offensive line lost some great players, and we must come together quickly with some inexperienced players for us to reach our full potential."
To have a great season, we must "gel quickly and play stingy defense," Slife said. "We must get improved play in our offensive line and defensive line for us to make a deep run in the playoffs this season. It will be very interesting how we respond to a very difficult schedule this season."
"We open with Regina and then host Mount Vernon, who is expected to have a very good season as well," Slife said. "Monticello is our other non-district game, and I believe they should be a playoff team, too. It's really too early to say, but we expect Mid-Prairie to battle it out with Mediapolis for a district championship. Then on paper everyone else will have a chance to punch their ticket to the post season for the last two spots."
"Our first district game is a big one with Louisa-Muscatine and will be a great game. If we can stay healthy, I expect us to have a nice season," Slife said.
This will be Slife's fourth season as head coach. He has a 17-15 record, and his team has qualified for the playoffs for three years. He is assisted by Jeff Richardson, Jason Iske, Gus Garcia, Brad Koenig, Ivan Escobedo and Dakota Fix.
2013's Toughest Opponents
Several teams have been identified by Slife as teams to beat in the district this season. "Mid-Prairie is loaded with talent this season," Slife said. "I believe Mid-Prairie is coached extremely well. They won't ever beat themselves. You'll have to take it from them. Reid Miller is an elite player on both sides of the ball."
"Eesaa Baylor is another very talented player who will have a great season as a RB and DE. Canaan Powell is a physical player who has all the tools to be a difference maker on both sides of the ball. Austin Erthum absolutely killed us last season as a kicker. Erthum is one the best high school kickers I have ever seen in person," Slife said.
"I don't expect (Mediapolis) to drop off at all. I think they will be a very tough team to beat this season. Drew Buster is a hardnosed player who is tough to bring down. Drew Foster showed that he could lead a team in the championship game. Adam Drain is tough as nails on the defensive line and will make life tough on all the offensive linemen he faces this season," said Slife.
"I expect (Louisa-Muscatine) to give everyone in the district a tough game. They are primed for a great season. Brandon Tomer will be a handful to stop this season. I know they return most of their team and run an offense that can play keep away with how they run the ball," Slife said.
"Columbus Junction has their best team coming back this season. Ricky Rivers and the Ramirez brothers could start for most of the teams in the state. Zach Gaddy is another player who must be accounted for," Slife said.
"West Burlington Notre Dame has a tremendous amount of athleticism on its team. I really like the skilled players they have," Slife said. "Brant Wrede is a playmaker, DaShon Johnson will be a three-year starter for them at quarterback, and Xavier Williams had a nice season as a freshman at wide receiver. Springer DeRosear showed what he is capable of last season too."
"Central Lee struggled last season, but is coached well. I think they have a couple of young junior weapons that will be tough to stop in Fett Connor and Jacob Boeck at wide receiver," Slife said.