South Hardin to honor Haley in Week Zero football

Cody Haley

The dissolving of a 30-year sports sharing agreement between Collins-Maxwell and Baxter also brought about change for a trio of local high school football teams.

The whole of Class 2A District 3 was forced to abandon its originally scheduled contest with the former CMB Raiders, with the resultant Collins-Maxwell Spartans and Baxter Bolts both destined for 8-Man football this fall. In order to cope with the hole in their schedules, each team was granted a Week Zero contest.

East Marshall, South Hardin and West Marshall have each been given home games to start their season tonight, one week ahead of schedule.

When South Hardin takes the field for its Week Zero game against Iowa Falls-Alden, there will be much more than football on the minds of both Tigers players and fans in attendance.

On Aug. 4, former South Hardin player and Marine Lance Cpl. Cody Haley tragically died in a training accident at Camp Pendleton in California. Visitation for Haley will be held from 1-5 p.m. at the Creps-Abels Funeral Home in Eldora, then before the game the Tigers will honor their fallen alum while his brother, junior Colton Haley, will wear Cody’s number.

“I think it will be a big game with all the stuff we are doing for a tribute for Cody,” new South Hardin head coach Nick Eller said.

Playing in the first game of a season comes with a mix of emotions already, but with the added weight of everything surrounding the celebration of Cody’s life, Eller said his team will have to do its best manage its emotions.

“They understand that but it’s an emotional night, and it should be,” Eller said. “It will just be a whole box of emotions on Friday night for everybody, so we will just have to play through it and I told them as long as they play hard they should be fine.”

There will be plenty of things for the Tigers to focus on during the game, as they are working in a totally new system and learning how to deal with a new coaching staff. Eller said so far the transition has gone well, and he looks forward to seeing that translate onto the field.

“The guys are excited to play a game since we started so early, so they are ready to get going,” he said. “Week Zero isn’t ideal for anybody, Iowa Falls will probably tell you that too, just because you are cutting your summer short. The guys have really worked hard, I’m not just giving you typical coach speak either, they really have worked hard the whole summer and the whole camp.

“I am really excited for them to get to play now, to get to see someone else in another jersey and we get a home crowd with a home game.”

While transitioning to this new regime, Eller said it has been the core of seniors on the team that has really stepped up and helped bring about the change.

“The transition has gone well mainly because I have really good senior leadership that has bought into our system and taken off with it, otherwise it would have been tough because I am doing a lot of things different with a different mindset,” he said. “They have been awesome, I have nine seniors and every one of them has been awesome. They have done everything they can to lead us and start off the right way.”

The Tigers kick off against Iowa Falls-Alden at 7 p.m. in Eldora tonight, followed by a bonfire as another part of honoring Cody Haley.

Mustangs host Rockets

For the first time in head coach Matt Bandstra’s career, the East Marshall Mustangs will open up the season with a Week Zero game by taking on Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont, a team they have not faced in Bandstra’s tenure.

Before practice earlier this week, Bandstra said his athletes have been in good spirits during the first few weeks of practice, while the practices themselves have gone by quicker than he expected.

“They have come along really well, it was a little bit of a slow start to get everybody here since it was before we are used to being back, but they did a great job of getting their mountains of paperwork in so they could actually practice,” Bandstra said. “Those first two weeks you get started and you think you have all this time but you blink and it’s over. But we got a ton of stuff done in those first couple weeks, we had some really good practices and a great attitude and effort from the players.”

Taking on the Rockets for the first time with East Marshall, Bandstra said he and the coaching staff have had some time to study what E-B-F has historically tried to do, and they will look to capitalize on opportunities.

“In the films that we have they ran a 4-3 defensively, so we will try to spread them out a little bit and take advantage of some blocking angles and things like that,” he said. “Football comes down to at some point you have to have one of your players beat one of their players, so we hope we can find a matchup that favors us and come back to that throughout the night and find success that way.”

One area the Mustangs will be sure to have an advantage is height on the receiving core. Seniors Zane Johnson and Logan Nicholson both earned all-district honors last year and they are sure to be some of the tallest players on the field, while they have returning all-district honorable mention quarterback Tyler DeBondt delving out reception opportunities.

“We have some weapons, a couple three receivers that are north of 6 foot, and in 2A we aren’t going to play a bunch of teams that are going to have two 6-foot-plus corners, so we are hoping to maximize that,” Bandstra said. “If they are wanting to take away Zane, fine we will hit you with Nicholson. If you want to take away Nicholson, alright we have (Noah Bandstra) or Dillon Lee coming out of the backfield and we have (Cole) Nauman or Kamren (Hoskins). There are lots of different weapons on offense and really what we are looking to do is look for the weak link on the other team’s defense and try to exploit it.”

Of course defense is important as well, and East Marshall has junior Noah Bandstra, a second-team all-district selection last season, anchoring the defense at linebacker.

The Mustangs take on the Rockets at 7 p.m. tonight in Le Grand.

West Marshall vs. Nevada

West Marshall will host its neighbor and former rival Nevada in its season opener tonight at 7:30 p.m. in State Center. Head coach Cody Hackett, now entering his fourth campaign with his alma mater, welcomed the opportunity to reignite a rivalry that existed before he graduated in 2005.

“It’ll be a hard-fought game,” he said. “They’re a bigger school than us, they’ve got nine of 11 guys on their defense coming back just like us, so they’re going to be good.

“This will be good for us to show where we’re at and I’m excited to get the opportunity to coach a past rivalry-type game. When I played in high school we always went up against Nevada. This was a rivalry at one point, so it’ll be fun.”

West Marshall is coming off a 5-4 campaign that “felt close,” according to Hackett, to fully reflecting all of the new coach’s changes from long-time head coach Ken Winkler’s lucrative system at the helm.

This year’s roster will be the first to play all of its football under Hackett’s term, and the former Trojan tailback has liked the way this group has responded.

“I was kind of in awe that we started so early,” Hackett said. “I’ve never been a part of a Week Zero game, it’s crazy how fast and soon it all started this year. I was a little worried about the guys coming off baseball because they were so close to getting to the state tournament, but I don’t think anything has slowed down this group of seniors. I think they’re ready, they know what they want: we want to do better this year and this group of seniors has worked hard.

“In the past, making changes was like changing their whole world, but this year we’ve made some changes and there wasn’t a single word. The guys have bought in and they’ve done a great job.”

The Trojans return 11 seniors in hopes of extending the program’s six-game winning streak in the series with Nevada. Hackett won all three times he faced the Cubs during his playing days and invites the challenge for his experienced squad.

“We’re trying to get it back to the tradition we’ve always had,” Hackett said. “We’re getting there.”