Season of change: Kopriva worthy Co-Player of the Year after the Redhawks’ surprise season
North Tama was discounted early and often ahead of the 2021 football season. After going 2-6 in the first season of head coach Taylor Wurth’s tenure, the Redhawks were picked to finish fifth in Class A District 3 and not be much of a factor come playoff time.
Indeed, a turnaround of the team’s fortunes would rely on better play from its offense and particularly from quarterback Gabe Kopriva, who had just 1,284 passing yards and six touchdowns in 2021 with 10 interceptions and 47.3 percent completion percentage.
Part of this was due to a complete change in play calling and offensive scheme midway through the year, Kopriva said.
What no one outside of the Redhawks expected was for Kopriva to be the leader in the state in passing completions at 229, second in attempts at 356, fourth in passing yards at 3,006, fifth in total offense at 3,815 yards and in the top 30 in passing touchdowns with 24.
This dramatic uptick in production — and a pass-based offense run exclusively out of shotgun and pistol sets — catapulted the Redhawks to a 6-2 regular season record, a third-place finish in their district and a run to the final eight in the Class A playoffs.
It also earned Kopriva Co-Player of the Year honors from the Times-Republican.
Kopriva said the honor is an indication of just how much the Redhawks improved in 2021.
“Nobody likes losing, and that’s what we did last year,” Kopriva said. “This year it was good just learning defenses and being more of a quarterback instead of running all the time, because I would try to force a lot of things or I’d run last year. Being able to sit in that pocket and throw a lot of touchdowns, more than in the past, makes it easier to win and easier to put the stats up.”
Kopriva has come a long way as a high school quarterback in his three seasons playing the position for the Redhawks. Initially starting off mainly in the defensive backfield, his first real snaps under center came during his sophomore campaign. The offense was different then, heavily based on the run game and not reliant on Kopriva and Skylar Staker to move the ball through the air. The team attempted 116 total passes and 353 rushes that season, and Kopriva went 20-of-34 for 341 yards and five scores. He took over the job as a junior but was prone to turnovers and experienced growing pains as the Redhawks went through two different offenses over the course of the season.
This year, he said, it has felt like a return to how North Tama’s large group of seniors played as kids — a return to backyard football of sorts.
“We started in Wing T and we started winning games when we switched to the shotgun and spread,” Kopriva said. “It was weird. I liked it a lot though.
“It’s a lot more fun — everybody has more fun and it makes the game more backyard football-ish. With all those guys, throwing to them and even going out during the summer and throwing routes, that helped us a lot having that connection.”
The senior class of 11 players has been together for a long time, and with their camaraderie, making the transition to a more wide-open attack was easier to do — and Kopriva said he felt Wurth’s trust in him throughout the year to make mistakes and bounce back with big plays.
After a playoff win, Wurth said his trust in Kopriva and his teammates to execute the offense in high-pressure situations was absolute.
As confidence built throughout the year, so did the Redhawks’ expectations. Six straight wins and strong showings from North Tama meant the final two games of the regular season, against Wapsie Valley and Grundy Center, would decide the district. North Tama lost both and didn’t score, with multiple turnovers in each game. The offense was on the ropes.
Kopriva threw two touchdowns and ran for another against Wapello in the first round of the playoffs, and he connected on the biggest play of the night in a round-of-16 victory over Lynnville-Sully: a run-pass option on fourth and three from the North Tama 19 with less than two minutes to play, in which he found Michael Bell for 80 yards to seal the win.
Kopriva said at the time it was a show of how together the Redhawks were in their decision-making.
“It was definitely risky, but sometimes it pays off,” Kopriva said.
The playoff run ended with a 28-7 loss to Grundy with a trip to the UNI-Dome on the line, but it was proof of what the team was capable of. Having looked back on things, Kopriva was nothing but happy with how his senior year went on the offensive side of the ball.
Defensively, he recorded 29 total tackles at safety and picked off five passes to help North Tama’s cause.
Making the run with some of his friends — the same group he’s been with forever, and the same teammates he’s with right now on the boys’ basketball team — made it all the more special for the senior.
“Ranked fifth in our district, not even supposed to make the playoffs, and we made it to the third round,” Kopriva said. “Sucks we lost right short of the Dome, but somebody’s gotta lose, I guess.”
2021 Times-Republican All-Area Football Team
Co-Players of the Year — Gabe Kopriva, sr., North Tama; Preston Pope, sr., West Marshall
Co-Coaches of the Year — Cody Hackett, West Marshall; Taylor Wurth, North Tama
Quarterback — Isaac Clark, so., Gladbrook-Reinbeck; Peyton Hart, jr., West Marshall; Dalen Huston, so., Marshalltown.
Running Back — Garrett Kerber, sr., East Marshall; Boden Koehler, sr., South Tama; Nick Rebik, jr., Marshalltown.
Wide Receiver — Caleb Egesdal, jr., Gladbrook-Reinbeck; Ethan Gienger, sr., Gladbrook-Reinbeck; Devin McKinley, sr., North Tama; Michael Schrier, jr., North Tama.
Tight End — Adam Greiner, sr., North Tama; Gannon Williams, sr., Marshalltown.
Offensive Line — Zach Chaplin, jr., West Marshall; Clay Goecke, jr., Marshalltown; Thomas Hulme, sr., North Tama; Nick Lucas, jr., Marshalltown; Sam Schaper, jr., West Marshall.
Defensive Line — Dominick Garth, sr., Marshalltown; Cody Gebel, sr., Gladbrook-Reinbeck; Ryan Hosek, so., North Tama; Austin Pfantz, jr., West Marshall; Tristen Sanford-Anders, sr., Gladbrook-Reinbeck.
Linebacker — Tim Benson, sr., East Marshall; Drake Blakesley, sr., Gladbrook-Reinbeck; Jacob Collison, sr., South Tama; Logan Rausch, sr., North Tama; Tom Smith, sr., Gladbrook-Reinbeck; Caden Vellinga, jr., West Marshall; Aiden Zook, sr., North Tama.
Defensive Back — Nick Feldpausch, sr., BCLUW; Kooper Gill, sr., GMG; Bo Lee, jr., East Marshall; Ziek Slocum, sr., Marshalltown.
Kicker — Richard Toe, sr., Marshalltown.
Punter — Rudy Papakee, jr., South Tama.
Kick/Punt Returner — Larnell Bear, sr., Meskwaki; Kyler Smith, sr., South Tama.
Past T-R All-Area Players of the Year
2020 — Brayden Evertsen, sr., West Marshall; Luke Pinnick, sr., West Marshall; Carson Williams, sr., Marshalltown
2019 — Keagan Giesking, jr., Gladbrook-Reinbeck; Skyler Staker, sr., North Tama
2018 — Cameron Bannister, QB, West Marshall
2017 — Hunter Lott, QB, Gladbrook-Reinbeck
2016 — Bryce Flater, RB/LB, Grundy Center
2015 — Jerry Lowe, RB, South Tama
2014 — Eric Stoakes, RB, Gladbrook-Reinbeck
2013 — Duncan Ferch, RB, West Marshall
2012 — Blake Gimbel, QB, Marshalltown
2011 — Blake Gimbel, QB, Marshalltown; Dalton Ferch, RB, West Marshall
2010 — Dalton Ferch, RB, West Marshall
2009 — Jarred Carlson, WR, Marshalltown
2008 — Drake Ferch, RB, West Marshall
2007 — Tyler Peschong, QB, Marshalltown
2006 — Tyler Rabey, RB, West Marshall
2005 — Alex Mayorov, RB, GMG
2004 — Andrew Peschong, QB, Marshalltown