By Seth Nutting
A year after finishing 6-4 and third in the Class 4A- District 1 standings, the Ames Little Cyclones will look to reach the playoffs for a second straight year after falling to Dowling Catholic 24-59 in the second round of the 2014 playoffs.
Led by quarterback Michael Frankl, the Little Cyclones will rely heavily on the senior to once again lead the offense. Frankl threw for 2,351 yards and 21 TD’s while throwing only four INT’s as a junior. After hauling in 85 passes and 1,006 receiving yards from Frankl in his junior campaign, 2nd team All-State honoree Colby Shane is the lone returning starter at wide receiver.
The Little Cyclones will also be without leading rusher Chris Woodward, who ran for 909 yards and 10 touchdowns as a senior last year. Stepping into the starting role will presumably be senior Darrius Martin. Last season’s backup for Ames was one of the best sprinters in the state last spring.
Other than Colin Newell, a 1st team All-Division left tackle as a sophomore who has already received an offer from Iowa State, the offensive line looks to be one of the biggest question marks of the upcoming season. Four starting lineman from a year ago must be replaced, including Drake recruit Anthony Mooney.
On the defensive side of the ball, Ames will return a strong secondary and defensive line, led by multi-sport athlete and three-year letter winner Michael Agbaje at safety and duo Kaleb Stevens and Harrison Townsend along the defensive line. Agbaje recorded 46.5 total tackles, two interceptions and a fumble recovery for touchdown as a junior.
At linebacker, Ames must replace Hank Swalla and Chris Halbur, both insdie linebackers, from a year ago. Senior Andy Christensen is the lone returner, recording 28.5 tackles as a junior.
The biggest loss from a year ago may have been to the special teams unit. The team must replace kicker Sam Rathe, who ranks third on Ames All-Time scoring list.
The Little Cyclones have some key returning pieces to make a run at another state playoff appearance, but lack of depth at several key positions: WR, OL, and LB will make the hunt for a 4A-District 1 title challenging. As usual, perennial powerhouses Ankeny and Southeast Polk look to be the favorites in a top-heavy district.
2014 record: 6-4 overall, 2-2 conference
Head Coach: Bruce Vertanen, 15th season, 85-56 career record
Assistant Coaches: Vance Downs, Tracey Rial, Mike Shane, Kyle VanWinkle, Kerry VanWinkle, Graham Lundt, Taylor Vanden Wynboom, and Joel Sullivan.
Returning offensive starters
QB Michael Frankl, Sr.
WR Colby Shane, Sr.
OL Colin Newell, Jr.
OL Jacob Mooney, Sr.
Returning defensive starters
S Michael Agbaje, Sr.
LB Andy Christensen, Sr.
DL Kaleb Stevens, Sr.
DL Harrison Townsend, Sr.
Total Returning Starters: 11
Total Returning Letterwinners: 21
Offensive Scheme: Multiple
Defensive Scheme: 4-2-5
2015 Schedule (district games in bold)
Aug. 28 @ Centennial
Sept. 4 vs. Cedar Falls
Sept. 11 vs. Iowa City High
Sept. 18 @ Marshalltown
Sept. 25 vs. Ankeny
Oct. 2. vs. SC North
Oct. 9 @ SE Polk
Oct. 16 vs. DM East
Oct. 23 @ CB Jefferson