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The official student news of Normal Community High School


The official student news of Normal Community High School


The official student news of Normal Community High School


Iron open ’23 campaign against Sacred Heart Griffin, eyeing the post-season

The Ironmen football team has one goal in mind for the 2023 season–win the IHSA 7A Quarterfinals and “hang a banner,” head coach Mr. Jason Drengwitz said.

To achieve that goal – a quarterfinal victory – the Ironmen must first make it to the quarterfinal round.

Last season, the Iron fell just short of qualifying for the quarterfinals, suffering a 32-31 loss to the Pekin Dragons.

Since Drengwitz took over as the Iron’s head coach in 2018, Community hasn’t advanced beyond the second round of the playoffs.

The Iron last played in a quarterfinal contest in 2015 under head coach Mr. Wes Temples, falling to Libertyville 41-27.

While last season’s loss to the Dragons, coming in the final 30 seconds of play, was “heartbreaking,” Drengwitz said, it has provided motivation.

“To be within one point of going to the quarterfinals,” Drengwitz said, has put the team in “a better place this year.”

The veteran players return for the 2023 season knowing the benefits of “stick[ing] to the process” and “tak[ing each game] week to week.”

Week one, the 2023 season opener against Sacred-Heart Griffin, will be the Iron’s first test, as the Cyclones went 14-0 on the way to a 4A State Title last season.

It is a test, Drengwitz said, the Iron are “excited” for.

It is rare that “you get to play somebody like Sacred Heart-Griffin week one at home.” The Cyclones, Drengwitz said, are “a tremendously coached and talented football team, an elite program statewide, nationally.”

While SHG’s former head coach Ken Leonard retired after last season, ending his career as the winningest coach in IHSA history with a record of 419-81, the Cyclones won’t lack experience within the coaching staff.

John Allison, the Cyclone’s offensive coordinator of two decades, takes over the helm as SHG’s new head coach.

But Drengwitz doesn’t think SHG’s pedigree brings extra pressure.

These games, against elite opponents, Drengwitz says, are the very ones the Ironmen grew up imagining as kids playing football in the backyard.

They have been fantasizing about games like the SHG contest for years.

Friday, that dream becomes reality.

“Our guys… want to see how they stand up against one of the best programs in the history of the state of Illinois.”

To do so, the Ironmen must stop Cyclone standouts like 6’4” Jake Kepler.

Kepler, one of three returning starters from last year’s championship roster, will see time Friday at the outside linebacker and wide receiver positions.

Kepler, Drengwitz said, is a “difference maker on both sides of the ball.”

The Iron will also key on junior wideout Seamus O’Brien.

O’Brien is a “dynamic player,” Drengwitz said. He is “really fast off the ball, has “great hands.”

Despite SHG’s young roster, the Iron are not underestimating the Cyclone’s skills.

“I’m sure they’ve got young guys that are going to be stepping up that are really talented.”

Leading the Iron’s offensive talent will be junior quarterback Kyle Beaty.

Beaty was “thrown into the fire” last season, Drengwitz said, after senior Chase Weise suffered a broken hand in the week three loss to Normal West.

After opening the season 1-3, Beaty helped lead the Iron to a 7-4 overall record, passing for 1,398 yards and completing 84 of 135 attempts.

While Beaty played at “a high level” as a sophomore, Drengwitz said, this summer the quarterback only got better.

“His game has grown physically and mentally,” the coach said. “He’s taking that next step on leadership.”

With Beaty under center, the Ironmen look to expand their playbook.

“Anytime you bring your quarterback back,” Drengwitz said, “it allows you to do more,… to put more on their plate schematically.”

Missing from the offensive scheme this season will be two of Beaty’s favorite targets last year–Cam Thierry and Elliot Oliver.

The two combined for 60 receptions, 801 yards and seven touchdowns.

This year at wideout, the Iron look to Mar’Quan Gary and slot received Kayden Hardeman to be “big time playmakers.”

The 6’1 Gary is “an outstanding player,” the coach said, tallying three touchdowns last season on 11 receptions.

In the backfield for Community will be senior Tommy Davis.

In limited action as a junior, the tailback rushed for six scores.

Davis finished 2022 just shy of 350 rushing yards on the season, surging for 347 yards on 58 carries.

The senior poses a threat in the passing game as well, recording three TD receptions and 245 receiving yards on 11 receptions.

After being sidelined by a nagging injury last season, this season, Drengwitz said, Davis is “as healthy as he’s ever been. He’s had a great winter, spring and summer, and [we’re] really excited about what he’s going to do for us offensively.”

Spelling Davis at running back will be Calen Taylor, the younger brother of ’23 graduate Chris Taylor.

While the Iron lose Zach Ferrante’s production at the tight end position (5 TDs; 175 yards. Returners Cooper Caraway, Alex Binion and Dexter Nijkamp all played “significant snaps” at that position last season and are expected to factor into the Iron offense.

“Skill-wise offensively,” Drengwitz said, “I think we’ve got a good group of guys that can be pretty dynamic with the ball in their hands.”

Defensively, the coach said, “you’ve got to be able to stop the run to win games.”

This season, all six members of the defensive front return for the Iron.

Having that front six back, which includes two All-Area selections – defensive end Dexter Niekamp and linebacker Cooper Caraway– “is huge” for the team, the coach said.

Last season, Caraway led the Iron in tackles, recording 54.

Niekamp wasn’t far behind with 50 while tallying two forced fumbles.

“Hav[ing] that front six back gives you a good head start on being able to stop to run and play at a high level on defense,” Drengwitz said. “It’s kind of a security blanket.”

This season, one of the Iron’s security blankets from the last four season’s will be noticeably absent – kicker Ryan Millmore.

“We didn’t have to worry about a kicker for four years,” Drengwitz said. “Ryan Millmore was just a difference maker.”

Millmore’s punts “could flip the field;” he allowed very few returns and often forced “turnovers from drops. He put almost every kickoff in the endzone,” and was “almost automatic” when it came to extra points and field goals.

Sophomore Will Castro will kick for the Iron this season.

Castro, Drengwitz said, has “done a nice job this offseason” and boasts a “strong leg.”

But Friday, the coach said, “he [has to] kick under the lights and it’ll be an adjustment.”

Punting duties, according to the coach, will be handled by either Leo Capparelli or Beaty.

“It’s going to be different because we won’t have that 40-yard average punt with four to five second hang time,” Drengwitz said. “We’ve tried to scheme it just a little bit differently to take advantage of what Kyle and Leo can do.”

The Iron kickoff at home against the Cyclones at 7:30 p.m. Friday.

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About the Contributor
Jeffery Woodard, Senior Staff Reporter
Jeffery Woodard is a senior at Normal Community High School and is involved in track & field. This is his third year working with the Inkspot, and he is a senior staff reporter. On the weekends, I enjoy hanging out with friends and going to the gym. In my free time, I enjoy watching movies of all sorts. My favorite film is "Black Panther."
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