Colo-NESCO has enough experience to overcome challenges

T-R PHOTO BY ROSS THEDE • The Colo-NESCO football team returns 12 letterwinners from last year’s team. Pictured are, front row: (from left) Francis Bower, Zack McWherter, Kelly Gray, Adam Texeira and Colin Hall; back row: Mason Lytle, Garrett Packer, Jacob Clatt, Sean Cutler, Connor Clark, Bryce Niemeyer and Philip Bower.

T-R PHOTO BY ROSS THEDE • The Colo-NESCO football team returns 12 letterwinners from last year’s team. Pictured are, front row: (from left) Francis Bower, Zack McWherter, Kelly Gray, Adam Texeira and Colin Hall; back row: Mason Lytle, Garrett Packer, Jacob Clatt, Sean Cutler, Connor Clark, Bryce Niemeyer and Philip Bower.

COLO — The Colo-NESCO football team’s bid for a fourth state playoff appearance since becoming an 8-man program in 2012 will hinge on how well the Royals respond to the challenge of filling some sizable shoes on both sides of the ball.

Iowa Newspaper Association third-team all-state selection Garret Tiarks, 8-Man District 5’s reigning Defensive Player of the Year, is gone to graduation, and he took with him 83 percent of the team’s passing yards, 61 percent of its rushing and a whole lot of leadership. Handling his many duties will not be a one-man job, Royals head coach Josh Nessa said.

“Garret Tiarks will definitely be really hard to replace on both sides of the ball, but we return probably more letterwinners than we maybe have since I’ve been head coach here so that’s really going to help us,” said Nessa. “We’re going to have a lot of experience and we’ve got some young guys who are really eager too, so that will give us some depth.”

At the point of the attack, Colo-NESCO believes it can turn to Garrett Packer to pick up a lot of the slack on both sides of the ball. Packer was second to Tiarks in rushing yards and tackles on last year’s 5-4 team that came up short of extending the school’s state-playoff streak to three years in a row. The Royals went 5-2 in district play to place third, but an at-large playoff invitation was not issued to them.

Packer, the 5-foot-10, 205-pound running back and linebacker, is just one of the Royals’ 12 returning letterwinners, but his skill set is one that Nessa hopes can make a seamless transition into the feature role on both sides of the line.

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“He’s been working really hard in the weight room, we see him probably doing some wildcat stuff for us and probably being our running back,” Nessa said. “I think he’ll fit into our system really well.”

The Royals return all of their linemen and a tight end, so the lanes they pave should be even wider than the ones Tiarks traveled on his way to finishing eighth in all of 8-man football with 1,412 yards rushing in just nine games.

Seniors Bryce Niemeyer (6-0, 200), Colin Hall (6-2, 245), Connor Clark (6-2, 205) and junior Adam Texeira (5-6, 220) will line up in front of Packer and whoever Colo-NESCO has in at quarterback at the moment. Seniors Philip Bower and Sean Cutler are both expected to see snaps, while both should be on the receiving end of the other’s passes when not calling out the signals.

“We’re hoping to expand the pass game a little bit more and we might have to because we don’t have that running threat like last year,” Nessa said, even though the Royals set the school’s 8-man record with 699 yards passing a season ago.

Colo-NESCO came away sixth in scoring offense last season, piling up 51.3 points per game, but a middle-of-the-pack defense (31st, 33.4 points per game) made it hard for the Royals to get back to the playoffs.

“It is [a track meet], but sometimes you have really low-scoring games too,” Nessa said. “We’ll still have some of those but defense is definitely a lot harder in 8-man. One missed tackle can be a touchdown, so we’ve been working a lot more on tackling than we have in the past.”

This year’s playoff hopes, Nessa said, will again hinge on how the Royals stack up against Twin Cedars and HLV. Twin Cedars reached last year’s state quarterfinals, while HLV was eliminated in the first round. Both teams beat the Royals by no more than 14 points in last year’s district pairings.

“It seems like a lot of the teams in the district have lost a lot, but HLV and Twin Cedars will be tough no matter what,” Nessa said. “I think us three will all be pushing for the playoff spots, but I guess time will tell. Meskwaki always has athletes and they make big plays, so they’ll be a wild card, and I expect they’ll be better this year too.

“I think our guys know that they’re in a really good position and we’ve talked about how hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard, so we’re trying to encourage them to work as hard as they can to accomplish great things.”

The Royals’ new campaign kicks off with non-district home games against AGWSR and Coon Rapids-Bayard, both of which topped Colo-NESCO a season ago.