Winkler hoping to make triumphant return with Warriors

T-R PHOTO BY ROSS THEDE • Pictured are, front row: (from left) Ellis Lasley, Dante Davenport, Stanford Kapayou, Sage Keahna, Jacob Bear, Taurice Grant, Evan Nelson and Desmond Kapayou; back row: Tiernan Wanatee, Kellen Taylor, Javoni Victor, Seth Keahna, Victor Balderas, Taté Bear, Jarius Bear, Miko Youngbear and Emmett Roberts.

T-R PHOTO BY ROSS THEDE • Pictured are, front row: (from left) Ellis Lasley, Dante Davenport, Stanford Kapayou, Sage Keahna, Jacob Bear, Taurice Grant, Evan Nelson and Desmond Kapayou; back row: Tiernan Wanatee, Kellen Taylor, Javoni Victor, Seth Keahna, Victor Balderas, Taté Bear, Jarius Bear, Miko Youngbear and Emmett Roberts.

MESKWAKI SETTLEMENT — Neither retirement nor assistant coaching fit with Ken Winkler.

The longtime head football coach who retired in 2014 after 29 years at West Marshall High School and 46 years overall enjoyed one year off before joining the staff at Bondurant-Farrar as an assistant to one of his former players. Two years of that in the rear-view mirror, Winkler has put the whistle back around his neck and has taken the helm of the Meskwaki Settlement School’s football program.

And now the Warriors, who are 27-50 since beginning on the gridiron in 2009 and 0-for-4 in the state playoffs, have Iowa’s 10th all-time winningest coach calling the shots.

“I just think I missed doing my own thing, I saw an opportunity that was close by so I took it,” Winkler said of the fifth high school he will coach at. “I don’t know whether it is [a good fit] or not, to be real honest with you. I guess we’ll find out. It’s probably not a similar situation to any one that I’ve been in in 48 years — this is 49 — but so far it’s been fun and I’ve been looking forward to it so we’ll just have to see how good a fit it really is.”

Winkler, with stints at Essex, Treynor, Sioux City West and most notably West Marshall, will delve into 8-man football for the first time in his half-century of coaching. The Warriors went 2-7 last season, finishing the fall with victories over Tri-County and Seymour after opening the year 0-7.

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A quick trip back into the basics is where Winkler’s first foray into the 8-man game will begin, and then a home game against Janesville will serve as the initial salvo.

“I think it’s blocking and tackling, I don’t care whether it’s 8-man or 11-man, but there are some differences and I think the biggest difference is defensively,” Winkler said. “When you line up on defense it just seems like you’re a man short all the time, and you just can’t get somebody in the middle of the field in the secondary all the time. But I’ve got some friends who have been very successful in 8-man and I’ve spent some time with them and I’m probably learning as much every day out here and it’s been fun. It’s a game where they score a lot of points and it’s been fun to learn about.”

The Warriors will have some experience at the key skill positions for their new head coach, with all-district first-team selections Jarius Bear and Taté Bear returning to the backfield. Jarius, a junior, has gained Winkler’s favor in practice enough to be labeled as the team’s primary running back, while Taté, a junior, will share snaps at quarterback along with freshman Taurice Grant. Taté threw for a team-leading 726 yards last season, while Jarius added 236 yards passing and team-highs of 530 rushing and 199 receiving. Seniors Noah Seymour and Miko Youngbear both caught a number of passes last season and will be leaned on to make plays on the outside, Winkler said.

Meskwaki ranked 52nd out of 61 8-man teams in total offense, and the defense surrendered 57.56 points per game, which ranked 57th in the state. Winkler has commissioned his linemen on both sides of the ball with changing the direction of the program.

“I think right now our skill positions we’ve got some experience there and I think we’ve got some talent there,” he said. “I think our biggest concern right now is trying to develop some linemen because that’s pretty inexperienced and we don’t have very much size there either.

“Depth is probably our biggest problem. We’ve got 17 kids, which is I think the most they’ve ever had out, but football is a game where you have some injuries so hopefully we can stay healthy and add some depth after a week or two.”

The impetus up front looks to be Javoni Victor, a junior who last year earned all-district honorable mention and has the size to make an impact — but not alone. Junior Kellen Taylor, sophomore Seth Keahna and freshman Victor Balderas are next in line size-wise and will need to help him shoulder the load.

“If you’re good fundamentally and you don’t make mistakes, I think you’ve always got a chance,” Winkler said. “They’ve been willing to learn, I think they’re wanting to get better and that’s the key at any level is to get better every day.”