Denison-Schleswig recorded five victories in nine games on the football field a year ago.
It was the first winning season for the Monarchs since 2011 under then second-year head coach Chad Van Kley.
Van Kley is now in his 10th season at the helm and his team’s recent progression has raised the level of excitement for the upcoming fall campaign.
After going 0-9 in 2015, D-S won two games in 2016, four games in 2017 and five a year ago under Van Kley, who owns a 24-57 overall record in his previous nine seasons on the sidelines.
"Ya, we’re excited for the new season. I think the bar has been raised a little bit, but that’s only because our athletes have bought into the system and understand their roles in an effort to achieve success against the level of competition that we face on a weekly basis," commented Van Kley.
"I think we stopped worrying about things we can’t control. I think the coaches have done a great job of getting the guys in shape to compete at this level. And that’s something that hasn’t been done overnight. It takes a lot of patience. Some aren’t patient, but I think you’re starting to see the benefits," he added.
The excitement begins with D-S returning eight starters on both sides of the ball and a total of 19 letterwinners.
Offensively, D-S brings back a lot of players at the skill positions.
The Monarchs return their quarterback, top three rushers and top four receivers from last year’s squad that won three of its first four games and two of its final three en route to just missing a berth in the Class 3A playoffs out of District 1.
Under center again for D-S will be senior signalcaller Charlie Wiebers, who accounted for a total of 20 touchdowns last fall.
Wiebers threw for 1,048 yards and 12 TDs, while rushing for 461 yards and eight more TDs on the season.
The rushing attack will be led by senior running back Terrance Weah, who carried the ball 109 times for 825 yards and seven TDs last fall.
Wiebers was second to Weah in rushing yards.
D-S also will look to senior fullback Wyatt Kaub, who ran the ball 90 times for 379 yards and two scores last fall.
Wiebers will have plenty of weapons to throw the ball to this season, led by Weah, who caught a team-high 19 passes for 252 yards and three TDs a year ago.
Senior tight end Austin Korner had 12 catches for 212 yards and three TDs last fall.
Senior receiver Jack Mendlik hauled in eight passes for 156 yards and three TDs, while senior receiver Damien Magnuson had nine grabs for 130 yards and one TD last season.
Wiebers, Weah and Korner all named to the 3A, District 1 first team a year ago, while Kaub, Mendlik and Magnuson all were honorable mention selections.
Other returning starters for the Monarchs are seniors Vernon Diaz (DL), Elijah Rangel (WR/DB) and Emigdio Gutierrez (DB); juniors Nathan Gallup (TE/LB), Joe Graeve (OL/DL) and Eric Turcios (OL/DL).
Other returning veterans are seniors Goanar Biliew (OL/DE), Treyton Fender (LB), Jacob Schroeder (OL/DL) and Avery Zenk (DL); and juniors Leo Araujo (TE/LB), Evan Turin (WR/DB) and Carter Weiss (OL/DL).
"We feel pretty good about our offense. The biggest challenge is that there’s only one football," Van Kley said.
"Besides the guys we have coming back, I also think we have others who have the ability to make plays for us. It’s a good problem to have, but the challenge is getting everyone to buy into what our ultimate goals are," the Monarch boss stated.
Van Kley said that he has eight or nine guys in the mix to block for his skill players.
"The challenge is to get those right pieces in the puzzle," Van Kley said.
The Monarch coach also likes what he sees on the defensive side of the ball.
"We have eight guys back. The hardest part is that we play so many defensive linemen that it’s hard to determine who is a starter and not a starter," Van Kley said.
"We lost Conner Reimer from the defensive backfield and that’s probably the biggest void. We’re going to play four linebackers this year and I really think we have seven guys who can play in those positions," he added.
Reimer led the team in tackles a year ago, but five of the top seven leaders in that category are back.
Gallup leads all returnees after recording 24 solo tackles and 45 assists a year ago. Weah was third with 20 solos and 27 assists.
Other tackle leaders back from a year ago are Rangel, Magnuson and Korner.
"You know our goal on defense is fly around a little better than we did a year ago. I think our offensive scheme has had more consistency over the past few years, and I think were in probably year three where we want to be defensively," Van Kley said.
Mendlik, Magnuson and Wiebers will headline the defensive backfield for the Monarchs with other guys having the ability to see reps, according to Van Kley.
A year ago, three teams from 3A, District 1 qualified for the playoffs in Sergeant Bluff-Luton, Sioux City Heelan and Spencer.
SB-L advanced to the state semifinals before bowing out 35-18 to eventual state runnerup Western Dubuque of Epworth.
"Sergeant Bluff-Luton and Spencer are the two teams that stand out to me," Van Kley said.
"Spencer brings a lot of talent back. Yards-wise, they bring back the top rusher in 3A from a year ago."
The Tigers’ Isaiah Spencer led 3A with 1,533 rushing yards and was among the leaders with 20 TDs on the ground.
"Spencer also brings back their quarterback and three offensive linemen. They might be the one team that brings back more than we do," Van Kley said.
"Sergeant Bluff-Luton is just going to come at you with speed. They have one of the top quarterbacks in 3A back in the Wright (Daniel) kid," Van Kley said.
Wright threw for 2,423 yards and 26 TDs with only six interceptions a year ago.
"They lost the Delperdang kid who ran for 1,300-plus yards, but then they have another guy filling in who has tremendous speed," Van Kley noted.
That guy is senior Jorma Schwedler, who won the Class 3A 100- and 400-meter dash events at the state track and field meet in May.
After SB-L and Spencer, Van Kley puts the Monarchs and Heelan in the mix of teams that will be battling the Warriors and Tigers for postseason advancement.
"I think we’re pretty comparable. We make one or two more plays against Heelan a year ago and we win that game. I see the same thing this year, but I think a lot of games in our district are going to be like that," Van Kley said.
Van Kley would like to feel that this year’s Monarch team is in position to break a playoff drought that dates back to 2009.
"I like the position we’re in. We talk about Sergeant Bluff-Luton and Spencer as the teams to beat and both have to come to Denison this year, so that’s a pair of great opportunities," Van Kley said.
"It’s something that we don’t talk about, but yet, my kids are smart. They know. At the same time, I think they’re smart enough to know you have to take it one week at a time," noted Van Kley, who will be joined on the sidelines by a familiar group of assistant coaches.
Those faces include Brian Slater (defensive coordinator), Nick Potts (offensive coordinator), John Torrey (JV offense), Adam Burns (JV defense), Seth Young (freshmen defense), Ricky Torres (freshmen offense) and Nick Riessen (volunteer coach).
D-S will open its season on Friday, August 30, against Harlan in a non-district contest at Denison.
The Monarchs will then travel to Council Bluffs in back-to-back weeks for games against Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson before concluding their non-district schedule on Sept. 20 against Kuemper Catholic at Denison.
D-S then will open 3A, District 1 play on Friday, Sept. 27, against Spencer at Denison.
What’s unique about this season for D-S is that the Monarchs will play all nine of their regular season games on a turf surface.
"That’s pretty unique, but at the same time, our kids are not going to places that they’re not familiar with. There’s something to say about that," Van Kley said.