With no disrespect to some extremely talented seniors who have graduated, the 2015 version of the Perry football team is weary of hearing the “How will you replace (insert name)?” question.
“We are not trying to replace anyone,” head coach Jason Olejniczak said, “and I don’t think it is possible, anyway. I would not say we are starting new all over again, because we do have plenty of talented guys coming back, but we will not look at all like the team we had on the field last year.
“They won’t come out and say it, but I think the guys have heard enough about new faces and new schemes and are just eager to get out there and make a name for themselves,” he added. “We were 3-6 last year but could have — maybe should have — been at least 5-4, if not 6-3 or maybe even 7-2. Staying healthy will be critical for us, but if we do that and play to our talent we could surprise some people.”
Perry was 2-4 in Class 3A District 2 play last fall. This is the final year of 32 teams from each class qualifying for the playoffs, as the number of teams in the postseason will drop back to 16 next year, which is also a district re-alignment year.
Olejniczak’s point about the Bluejay record is borne out by the numbers. Perry was 2-3 in games decided by one score (eight points) or less. The Jays downed Boone, 21-14, and Algona, 21-13, but fell to ADM, 15-9, to Greene County, 24-21, and to Webster City, 21-14. The first two of those losses, in particular, were difficult to receive as Perry appeared to be the better team on the field in both contests.
“We have to be able to put teams away when we take a lead and have to be in the physical condition to be strong in the fourth quarter and not fade late,” Olejniczak said. “We have more numbers out this year, so maybe we can have a few guys who can play at key spots and can give some guys some breaks and not force a bunch of them, especially our linemen, to have to play the whole game both ways.”
The task facing may appear insurmountable, especially on offense, but Olejniczak said overcoming the tests facing the squad was a matter of confidence.
“We have to believe in ourselves, first and foremost,” he said. “No one is going to feel sorry for us. If the team wants to be taken seriously it will be up to them to believe they are good enough to make that happen.”
Gone are 14 of the 15 rushing touchdowns and all four of the receiving scores produced by Perry last year. The Jays scored 149 points but surrendered 214. Gilbert blanked Perry, 35-0, and Carroll scored a 43-10 win, skewing the points numbers, which would otherwise have favored Perry, 139-136.
Senior Ryan Rathje will be given the nod at quarterback. He was 15-of-28 (53.6 percent) for 255 yards, two TDs and one interception (QB rating of 146.5) in limited time last year.
“Ryan won’t pull it down and run very often,” Olejniczak said. “He sees the field well and has the advantage of being 6-5, so he can see over the line and has a good arm, but we will need to create a good pocket for him to pass from. There will be some good backs he can hand off, to, as well.”
Eli Saemisch is the top returning rusher after having carried 47 times for 126 yards and a score. He will be joined in the backfield by Adan Medina.
Tavier Lucas had six catches for 111 yards and is the lead receiver back this season. Jacob Thompson, Reece Dunlap and Kade VanKirk will also see time at wideout, with Medina stepping outside for some three-wide sets while Marcus Meri is the lead choice at tight end.
The Bluejays are clearly aiming to be more physical all the front line, which will be anchored on the left side by tackle Joe Olvera and guard Tyler Soll. The right tackle spot will be held by J. R. McCord, with Kevin Lopez at right guard. Gil Garcia and Tanner Darr are currently battling for the starting duties at center.
Olvera (63.5 stops) and Saemisch (47 denials) are the lead returning tacklers. Olvera and Soll will start at down tackle, with Alonzo Zarate in the mix as well. Saemisch and Solomon Pierce are the current choices at defensive end.
Medina, Mark Campos and Nic Fellom received the most mentions at linebacker, although Olejniczak noted “we have some battles going on for the linebacker spots. I am waiting for someone to step up and show me something.”
The secondary causes much less concern.
“I really like our defensive backs,” Olejniczak — who was himself a star defensive back at Iowa — noted. “Kade (VanKirk) will start at safety, with Tavier Lucas and Donald Chavez both possibilities. Jacob Thompson, Reece Dunlap, Brandon Juarez, Ivan Garcia and Manassas Martinez are good corners, so we should be OK back there. If we can get a pass rush from the guys up front we will be even better.”
Garcia is the likely choice to repeat as placekicker, with Alvaro Soto mentioned as well. The situation at punter — and, crucially, at long-snapper — is as yet unsettled.
“We lost some key pieces, but just about everyone on our schedule did,” Olejniczak said. “It won’t take long to find out who recovers the fastest.”
(2014: 3-6, 2-4)
Class 3A District 2
Date Opponent Site Last Yr.
8/28#* ADM Home L 9-15
9/4# North Polk Away W 34-21
9/11# Gilbert Home L 0-35
9/18 Boone Away W 21-14
9/25 Carroll Away L 10-43
10/2 Algona (HC) Home W 21-13
10/9** Greene Cnty Away L 21-24
10/16 Webster City Home L 14-21
10/23 Humboldt Home L 19-28
# — Denotes non-district game
* — 2nd Rock Hunger game
** — Cowbell game