Rebels bring back-to-back titles into 11-man finale

T-R PHOTO BY THORN COMPTON • The Gladbrook-Reinbeck football team brings back 13 letterwinners from last season’s Class A state title run. Pictured are front row: (from left) Josh Peterson, Walker Thede, Cael Wyatt, Hunter Lott, Matt Johannsen and Kyle Koppen; back row Bronson Wrage, Seth Gretillat, Gage Murty, Mason Skovgard, Will Blakesley, Bryce Schick and Rhett Barnes.

T-R PHOTO BY THORN COMPTON • The Gladbrook-Reinbeck football team brings back 13 letterwinners from last season’s Class A state title run. Pictured are front row: (from left) Josh Peterson, Walker Thede, Cael Wyatt, Hunter Lott, Matt Johannsen and Kyle Koppen; back row Bronson Wrage, Seth Gretillat, Gage Murty, Mason Skovgard, Will Blakesley, Bryce Schick and Rhett Barnes.

REINBECK — It’s well known that one of the most successful programs in the state at any level of play over the last few years has been the Gladbrook-Reinbeck football team.

Each of the last three years, the Rebels have ended their season in the UNI-Dome with a chance to win a state title, and the last two years they have done just that.

Not only are they returning champions in 2017, this will likely be the last season G-R plays 11-man football, as they are already working on the change to the 8-man level come 2018.

Rebels head coach John Olson said right now the team is focused on getting better after every day of practice, but if he’s honest he does think about what this season means for his football program.

“I’m sure that is always something we think about, it would be dumb not to say you don’t think about stuff like that, but we don’t talk about that or even work towards it because we aren’t good yet,” Olson said of the desire to win one last title in Class A. “Until we get to that point in 10 weeks when I can tell you ‘OK, now we are good enough to win a state championship,’ between now and then we don’t think about that a whole lot. We have a long way to go, we don’t know who is playing linebacker for us on defense and we don’t know who will be playing a couple of defensive line spots or defensive back spots, so we have to get all that figured out.”

T-R GRAPHIC

T-R GRAPHIC

As Olson alluded to, Gladbrook-Reinbeck did lose quite a few players from last season’s championship squad, including a handful of first-team and second-team all-district players from Class A District 5.

The Rebels also bring back a good amount of senior leadership though, in fact the team is almost half seniors this year, something Olson said has given his guys an extra edge competitively.

“It is definitely senior dominated for sure. We have about 32 kids out this year and 14 of them are seniors and we had one that came out for the first time in a while so it is good to bring out somebody new like that,” Olson said. “Our practices are very competitive and we have good leadership on the team. We only have six sophomores, six juniors and five or six freshmen, so from that standpoint those guys are trying to make an adjustment too because they are going down to 8-man football already at the junior high and a JV program this year.”

Splitting duties as a coaching staff by working at both the 8-man and 11-man level can be a challenge, but Olson said his staff is one of the best in the state and the seniors on varsity have helped with the transition as well.

“As our staff of 12 coaches, half of us will be doing 8-man and half of us will be doing 11-man,” he said. “It is a little challenging at times but that is why we have as many coaches as we do and that’s why our senior leadership is really important to build off this year.”

During the last few championship runs, defense has been the calling card for Rebels football. During the regular season last year, G-R only gave up five touchdowns in nine games, and having players like all-district selections Mason Skovgard, Matt Johannsen and Rhett Barnes back should go a long way towards continuing that trend.

“We run a 4-2-5, so we can adjust no matter what we see on our side of the ball but we also have to adjust to our personnel,” Olson said of his defense. “We were fortunate here the last few years that we haven’t had to move much of our personnel around much, so when you see a spread team or we see a power I team we didn’t have to make a lot of adjustments. That’s where the seniors come in, they have seen a lot of different types of looks so we don’t have to make as many adjustments.”

The Rebels offense is definitely a big factor in their success as well, as they actually had to outscore Bishop Garrigan last season to come away with a state title. Olson said he hopes to see his offense continue playing well under the guidance of returning first-team all-district players Hunter Lott at quarterback and Walker Thede at receiver.

“They are the reason last year we won a state championship, our defense did not play our best game in the state championship last year,” Olson said. “Our offense stepped up in the playoffs. Our defense only gave up five touchdowns all year but we gave up five extra in the playoffs, while our offense scored more in the playoffs than they did in the regular season.”

As for what he thinks will be a success this season, Olson said he isn’t sure about that yet because he doesn’t know just what this team is this early in the season.

“We are not very good right now, but at the end of each practice we are going to be better,” he said. “We start off with Grundy Center, and that is a big game for us coming up. 99th straight time we’ve played them and our last time we will play them, so that is kind of a big deal for us to gauge how we are going to be this year. Last year I don’t think we played very good against them and we only beat them by one point. Whether we go there and beat them by 40 or they beat us by 20, we still have Dike-New Hartford the week after that and no matter what happens after that it doesn’t matter because then we have our district season coming up.”