|Coach, dozen players on All-District list
by Gregory R. Norfleet · Sports · November 09, 2017
Unbeaten in District 3, West Branch football landed a dozen players on the annual All-District list, including Coach of the Year.
This year’s list added a new category, “The Golden Award,” featuring players showing early talent and skill prior to season-ending injuries. Sophomore Wyatt Goodale at defensive back earned one of three spots for his work before a broken lower leg.
Among the Most Valuable Performers, West Branch got four players on the list: senior wide receiver Ben Thompson, senior offensive lineman Jacob Barnhart, senior defensive back Jacob Graves and junior kicker Beau Cornwell.
Of the 22 slots on First Team, the Bears took five with the same four MVPs and added junior John Hatfield. Among 16 positions on Second Team, West Branch earned three spots: senior Billy Friis, sophomore Tanner Lukavsky and senior Andrew Black. And of 24 Honorable Mentions, the Bears took three positions: junior Brett Schiele, freshman Jeff Bowie and junior Jaden Hierseman.
With a team that started more underclassmen than seniors, the Bears also managed to land three freshmen and sophomores among the team’s best players.
Head Coach Butch Pedersen earned the honor of District 3 Coach of the Year once again.
“Any time the head coach gets it, it’s because of the assistant coaches and players and all their hard work,” he said.
He called it more of a “staff and player award.”
“Without those two components, we don’t have a chance to be successful,” he said. “But I’m gratified and honored to be chosen.”
Regarding Goodale’s season-ending injury, the coach said the sophomore likely would have made it to the all-district list had he maintained his level of play.
After 10 games, Thompson finishes the season with 663 yards on 40 receptions, or 16.6 yards per catch, and 11 touchdowns. As for receiving yards, he finishes third among all of Class 1A and second in District 3.
“He’s probably one of the most improved players from sophomore to senior year,” Pedersen said. “He was timid as a sophomore, but turned into a hitter and receiver. He runs good patterns and has great elevation, as well as great team speed. He’s a gifted receiver.”
Barnhart’s position may get overlooked on paper since there no statistics for blocking, but the senior caught plenty of attention from college coaches, from Division I on down, who have seen him play. The University of Iowa, Iowa State and Northern Iowa are among the top-tier teams courting the 6-5, 300-pound player with 26.5 tackles and two solo sacks on the defensive side.
“Without any question, he’s the best offensive lineman in the state,” Pedersen said. “He’s a great drive blocker, good pass protector and has the extra heartbeat to be a good offensive lineman. He’s one of the best we’ve ever had here.”
Graves finishes 10 games with 588 yards on 48 catches, or 12.3 yards per catch, and four receiving touchdowns. With that many receiving yards, he finished sixth in Class 1A and fourth in District 3. The coach said he could also play college ball.
“He’s one of the most versatile athletes I’ve ever coached,” Pedersen said. “He could play a variety of different positions.”
As a defensive back, Graves “is a great hitter and great cover man versus the pass.”
“He also played safety and corner back and did a tremendous job at both,” the coach said.
Cornwell caught a lot of attention at the quarterback spot, but also excelled at the kicking position. He set a school record for field goals with eight, breaking the record of five set by Josh Griebahn in 2002. His longest sailed 42 yards.
He punted an average of 34.4 yards per attempt, with his longest at 51 yards.
“He’s the best kicker in the district,” Pedersen said. “He’s very accurate and has great leg strength.”
The coach credited Cornwell’s kicking for the 24-23 win at Durant, and said it played a big part in the 30-20 victory over Tipton.
“He definitely has the ability to be a college kicker,” Pedersen said.
On First Team, Cornwell got in for quarterback. He made the most of that position by breaking a school record for season passing yards — 2,125 — and tying a school record for passing touchdowns — 20. When the Bears’ season ended, he was the No. 1 quarterback in Class 1A and No. 7 across all classes for passing yards.
Pedersen said Cornwell’s ability to run and throw made him a “dual threat” as the season went on.
“He’s got great arm strength and vision on the field,” the coach said. “You can’t teach those things.”
He said Cornwell also has the ability to play quarterback in college.
Hatfield finished the season with 63 tackles to lead the Bears’ defense, which is No. 6 among defensive players in District 3, landing him on First Team. He also recorded six tackles for loss and a fumble recovery.
“He is one of the most improved athletes on the team,” Pedersen said. “He has a nose for the ball.”
Hatfield bulked up from 133 to 170 pounds “by a consistent work ethic in the weight room,” the coach said.
“He’s become a very tough-nosed football player,” Pedersen said.
Moving on to Second Team, Friis earned his position at offensive line.
Pedersen said he, too, has improved greatly this season, and held the job of tight end before moving to the interior of the offensive line.
“He’s very unselfish,” the coach said. “He learned a lot under (assistant coach) Jack Rummells and turned into a very good offensive lineman.”
Lukavsky made the list even after missing a few games due to a leg injury. The sophomore started the season as the lead running back, then returned on special teams, then defense only, then back to running back at the end of the season.
Lukavsky’s absence hampered his chances of more yards and touchdowns, but he still ran for 712 and caught for another 162, for a total of 874 yards and 13 touchdowns. Only Graves, who took over lead running back duties while Lukavsky healed, finished the season with more total yardage. Lukavsky led the team with 13 rushing and receiving touchdowns.
“He’s one of the best running backs in the district,” Pedersen said. “That injury held him back some, but he has a tremendous future with two years left if he continues to grow as a football player.”
Lukavsky’s level of improvement as an underclassman already has the coach predicting he could play in college.
Black, or “Blackie,” is among the Bears “most versatile” defenders, Pedersen said, playing linebacker, defensive end and then defensive tackle.
The senior finished the year No. 2 with 45 total tackles for the Bears, including eight solo tackles for loss, eight assist tackles for loss, four solo sacks and one sack assist.
“He’s strong, quick and has a nose for the football,” the coach said. “He did a great job and I couldn’t be any happier for him. He’s really grown as an individual and an athlete.”
Schiele steps in as an honorable mention, and Pedersen said the junior wide out “worked very hard” in that position.
The junior pulled in 399 total yards averaging 9.5 yards per play and made two touchdowns. He caught 40 passes.
“He had great hands and a great vertical leap,” the coach said. “And he had a great ability to be elusive after he got the ball. I look forward to him having a great senior year.”
Bowie is the lone Bear freshman to make the all-district list and one of only two on the entire District 3 roster.. An award-winning powerlifter in the off-season, Bowie stepped up to the line with upperclassmen and contributed 33.5 tackles, nine solo tackles for loss, 10 assist tackles for loss, one sack assist and a team-leading seven solo sacks.
He is tied for seventh across all classes for solo sacks and is the No. 1 freshman for solo sacks.
“He’s one of the leading sack people in the state,” Pedersen said. “He has great knowledge, leverage and an eye for cutback runners. He’s super-physical and still had three years left.”
With so few freshman starters and even fewer making all-district, Bowie “could be one of the greatest players” in West Branch history if he continues to develop, the coach said.
Hierseman played center for the Bears and Pedersen said he was impressed with the junior’s consistency, especially in shotgun formation.
“He’s an intelligent offensive lineman,” the coach said. “And he continued to grow each week as offensive center.”