GRUNDY CENTER — Facing what promises to be the first of several tests within one of Class A’s more challenging districts, Grundy Center’s football team produced a statement win last Friday.
Running back Bryce Flater visited the end zone six times during a 49-28 victory over Class A’s No. 8 Mason City Newman that gave the Spartans an upper hand for positioning into this year’s more exclusive playoff field.
Reflecting on an early signature win, the two-way senior standout brushed aside individual accolades from his 29-carry, 287-yard performance. Instead, he gave his team’s defensive effort a nod of approval.
“It was going both ways towards the beginning of the game,” Flater acknowledged. “(Newman) is a solid team, good up front and they have some good backs.
“I’d say we did a good job executing second half on defense, made some good adjustments and stopped them on third downs. If you make a stop on third down, everyone gets going. I think we really had that push.”
Flater has given Grundy Center a strong push throughout his four-year varsity career as a starter in the backfield and at linebacker. He ranks third all-class among Iowa’s running backs with 835 rushing yards at an average of 7.7 per carry this season, upping his career totals to 4,591 yards and 54 rushing touchdowns.
The running back who led Class A with 2,103 yards a year ago says he grew up with a passion for football and set a goal of contributing on the local varsity team as a freshman. Grundy Center coach Brent Thoren recalls Flater first making a strong impression during the summer following his eighth grade year when he held his own as a defender in the 7-on-7 circuit.
Midway through that freshman season, Flater took over fulltime at outside linebacker and became a regular in the backfield. That postseason, he didn’t take long to make his mark during an opening-round playoff win over Starmont.
“First time Bryce touched the ball, second or third play from scrimmage, he ran for a 60-yard touchdown,” Thoren recalls. “Typically you have that kind of situation in a playoff game where you rely on some of your older kids to make those plays for you. He scored the opening touchdown and didn’t think anything of it. He just kept growing and maturing.”
Throughout the years, Flater has developed into a more versatile player on offense capable of lining up at tailback, fullback and receiver.
“You can see on film where he has the ability to change direction or cut very quickly,” Thoren said. “His vision has gotten a lot better since he was a freshman. As a coach, you can see how much he has expanded in terms of his ability to be a well-rounded running back.”
Adding to Flater’s success is the support he’s received from his offensive line. Grundy Center returned starters Nolan Freeman, Cade Rohler, Josh Kuiper, Jordan Hook and tight end Braidan Buhrow from the successful 2015 campaign. The core of that group are still just juniors.
“They’re just tremendous, and they create some big holes for me to run through,” Flater said. “They did really well my junior year. Them hitting the weight room this past summer has helped tremendously. They’re just some big dudes. I couldn’t do it without them.”
Increased strength on the line has gone a long way toward helping improve the Grundy Center football program in recent years. An early litmus test this season came opening week when the Spartans hung with defending state champion and No. 2-ranked Gladbrook-Reinbeck during a 7-6 loss.
“We reflected on it and they realized what they’re capable of doing,” Thoren said. “It’s really kind of launched us forward and driven our kids.”
Grundy Center faces another test Friday at No. 8 West Hancock. Top-ranked Saint Ansgar is also in the Spartans’ district.
“Walking around town everyone is talking about our football team, how we’ve developed from past years and how we’re looking to keep pushing against these solid teams and hopefully have a great season,” Flater said.
Thoren, who coached North Tama to a state championship in 2010, realizes the type of impact a player like Flater can have for the present and future of a program.
“It gives you kind of a lightning rod where you point to kids and look at the success they had,” Thoren said. “I’ve been blessed to have kids that were very gifted, but the reality is also that they worked incredibly hard.
“You just kind of use those kids as examples. They leave a legacy in the program for other kids to emulate. The younger kids identify with them and want to reach that level. It creates momentum.”
While Flater has drawn some interest from NCAA Division I and II programs, he plans to wait and see what his options are for collegiate football as the season progresses.
He also competes in baseball and track and has enjoyed the support he’s received from a strong football coaching staff.
“They get us prepared each week,” Flater said. “In the weight room they’re always pushing us. A lot of them are volunteers spending every night working with us to get better.”