CEDAR RAPIDS – Preparing to write a second chapter has allowed everyone to get on the same page.
After a year together, the Cedar Rapids Prairie Hawks and second-year head football coach Mike Morrissey have adjusted to one another. They have had more time to form a strong bond that was tough to establish when he first took over.
“We really jumped into the season,” Morrissey said. “After spending just over a year with these guys, I think they understand my personality better. I think they understand the goals that we set as a program and the direction we want to do philosophy-wise and what is expected of them as young men, also.”
Morrissey and the Hawks look to transform that understanding as teams from across the state begin prep football practice Monday. Prairie was 2-7 last season, and hasn’t reached the postseason since 2009 while recording its last winning season in 2008.
Last year was a learning experience. they were still figuring out how to run plays and proper routes midway through the season.
“We have everything going, right now,” senior quarterback Jace Hanna said. “We’re clicking on all cylinders, flying through and knowing everything. It’s helping us get better for this year.”
Morrissey attempted to alleviate the confusion that hindered Prairie’s growth last season. He scaled back the schemes so they weren’t so complicated. Morrissey’s goal was to allow the Hawks to play instead of thinking so much on the field.
“Part of the process over the offseason was fixing mistakes I made as a coach,” Morrissey said. “I thought offensively we did more than we should have.
“We installed a while bunch of stuff and expected our guys to know all the offense. We had a lot of defensive stuff and that’s just too much.”
The 29-year-old Morrissey has made an immediate impact with the Prairie players. He came in last year and created a bond with the players. His enthusiasm allowed him to connect with the players and inspire them in games and practice.
“He brings a lot of energy,” senior Jarred Edmonds said. “It gets us motivated to play. Everyone loves it.”
The players have bought in to his system, according to Morrissey. A perfect example is the players increased participation in offseason work, including going out for other sports and attending weightlifting and skills sessions.
“I think our junior and senior classes have really taken to what we’re doing,” Morrissey said. “They’re a great group of kids. The thing about them is that athletically they’re pretty talented (and) they’re just as talented in the classroom. They’ve done a nice job of becoming nice young men.”
The team’s camaraderie received a boost at the end of June. The Hawks participated in a 7-on-7 camp in South Bend, Ind. The team voted to attend the event at the University of Notre Dame, playing teams from five states instead of going to a camp at Iowa State.
The Hawks won the two-day event, playing the semifinals and championship games inside Notre Dame Stadium.
“That was great,” said Edmonds, a receiver named tournament Most Valuable Player. “That was the best experience of my life.
“We went in thinking it was going to be tough. I think we underestimated ourselves a little bit. We found out our real potential ad we came out victorious.”
The Prairie team one the final two games in the final seconds, and had to overcome a slow start in the first game that opened with an interception on offense and the defense allowing two quick scores.
“To their credit, they rallied around each other,” Morrissey said. “From that moment on, where we fell behind early, they came together as a group.
“We stayed at my grandparents. They were at a house by themselves. They matured big time in the fact they went to bed early. The bonding time that they got to have carried over.”
They also took away confidence. The Hawks proved they could compete with teams from across the country, and they are unified.
“The little things matter,” Hanna said. “A lot of those teams were probably more athletic than us so we focused on little things. I think that helped us in the long run.”
It already has raised expectations for this season. The Hawks’ dedication and effort leading up to Monday’s practice and the season opener against west side rival Cedar Rapids Jefferson on Friday, Aug. 24, at John Wall Field has raised Edmonds hopes.
“We’ve been working together as a team. We have great chemistry,” Edmonds said. “We all love the game. We’re going to come out here every day busting our butts to try to get better.”
Prairie fielded a young team last season and returns many of its leaders for this season. Hanna was the team’s leading passer, throwing for 1,169 yards and six touchdowns. His top target was Edmonds, who had 529 receiving yards and seven TDs.
Demetrius Harper, who missed time due to a shoulder injury, provides an athletic weapon for the Hawks. He had 350 total offensive yards and four touchdowns, averaging 11.7 yards a carry. Braeden Carlson is the team’s top returning rushing and defender, compiling 204 rushing yards, two TDs and three interceptions.
Senior Cam Rathje led the Hawks in tackles (73) in 2011. Mitch Dellamuth and Tristan Beyer received praise from Morrissey.
“We have a lot of good athletes coming back,” Hanna said. “I think we can surprise some people this year.”