FAIRBANK — A dynamic duo within a determined senior class has helped lead one of Iowa high school football’s most storied small-school programs back to prominence.
Class A’s No. 5-ranked Wapsie Valley (7-0) opened the season with wins over a pair of potential Class 1A playoff teams in Denver and South Winneshiek before taking the driver’s seat with wins over the top three challengers in a competitive district filled with hard-nosed physicality.
Contact is something Wapsie Valley’s fourth-year starter Jake Kuhlman has embraced. He’s accumulated 536 rushing yards and seven touchdowns at an average of 5.2 per carry, while leading the team with 41 tackles, seven for loss.
Fellow senior Colin Schrader has added game-changing playmaking ability. Covering the opposition’s top receiver, Schrader ranks among the state leaders with five interceptions — including a pick six that sparked his team against Denver. He’s also run for 667 yards and six touchdowns, surpassing 100 yards in each of those key showdowns with the district’s playoff contenders.
“They’ve just been amazing players, offensively and defensively,” said Tony Foster, who coached Wapsie Valley to the program’s fourth and fifth state championships in 2007 and 2012. “They both are guys that are never going to miss any kind of workout and they’re going to expect the other guys to do the same. They just give everything they’ve got. Their intensity and effort is outstanding.”
With Wapsie Valley most recently reaching the state semifinals in 2013, this large senior class has yet to experience a game inside the UNI-Dome. Kuhlman and Schrader are among five seniors who have played varsity since they were sophomores.
“We thought we were a Dome team going into the season and we still have that expectation,” Kuhlman said. “It’s been a dream of mine forever.”
Schrader credits the team’s work ethic as a key to the growth. They endured rare losing seasons as freshmen and sophomores before being eliminated by a Saint Ansgar squad that reached the state semifinals in last year’s playoffs.
“Our team has really come together,” Schrader said. “Throughout the summer we had one group lifting session so we’d all be together and we’ve kept that going.
“We’re all really close friends. It helps on the field because we know how to act around each other and we know when somebody needs help, and we’ll go help.”
Schrader and Kuhlman each point toward the growth of their offensive linemen and the development of a stronger passing game as keys to their success rushing the football.
Foster feels their contributions on defense have been just as, if not more, valuable.
“In my opinion, Jake is one of the best linebackers in the state,” Foster said. “It’s amazing the way he gets to the ball.
“Colin has a knack to use his hips, always has vision of the ball and is never out of position. He’s a wrestler who understands how to do takedowns and he doesn’t miss tackles. He can just flat out cover.”
One word emphasizes how these Warriors view defense.
“Every time we break the huddle on defense, we always say, ‘Pride,’” Kuhlman related. “That’s our thing. We take pride in letting minimal yards happen on the run game, especially, and our secondary goes a great job.”
Trust has been built through years of friendship.
“I like that everybody does their own job,” Schrader said. “It makes it so you don’t have to worry about the other people because you know they’ll get it done.”
With postseason play just around the corner, Wapsie Valley’s veteran players are determined to leave their mark.
“I’d say the commitment and heart,” Kuhlman responded, when asked what makes this team unique. “We have 14, 15 seniors out. In Class A football, that’s pretty good. Everybody loves the game and we all want to go really far and get to the Dome.”