BY ETHAN LILLARD
FORT MADISON – It was just the first day of summer camp, but the enthusiasm and excitement could be felt from the Fort Madison players and their coaching staff. Monday marked the first day of football for the Bloodhounds as they practiced in helmets and shorts in the summer heat, something they will do the entirety of this week’s camp.
While many coaches use this time to install new offensive and defensive systems, first-year Fort Madison Head Coach Derek Doherty believes all of the off-season work his players put in has them one step ahead of the game in the beginning stages of summer camp.
“I would say this camp is a little bit different from typically camps because we’ve been putting in that summer work and our kids are ahead of the game,” Doherty said. “This isn’t learning for most of them, it’s review and building.”
Helping with his players familiarity is the fact Doherty was a long-time assistant coach for Fort Madison and will implement some of the same schemes the Hounds have been known for in the past. He did however let us know that not everything is going to look the same.
“We’ve got an array of different things we are wanting to do with these guys,” Doherty said. “Some of the stuff will look familiar to last year. We’ve put some new wrinkles in.
“We’re ready to bring guys in and pack the box if we need to go old school, just moving forward football, but we also have some special athletes that we can get the ball to on the outside as well.”
Some of those names on the offensive side of the ball will be the same as last season, but will also include some fresh faces looking to make a splash this year.
“We have two really good running backs,” Doherty said. “We’ll have Diego Lozano in the backfield and Kali Maestro is coming back. Both of those dudes are smart running backs and they are a load to bring down.
“We’ve got some fast guys on the inside, too. Mike Mosena, he did really nice things for us last year. We’ve got a kid whose developed really well, Brock Califf. He had a really good JV season for us last year and he understands the system … He could be a very special player.”
When it comes to the captain of the ship, the quarterback, Will Larson currently holds that position, but as Doherty made clear, every slot on the depth chart is up for grabs.
“Our quarterback right now if we’re playing tonight is Will Larson,” Doherty said. “He was our backup quarterback last year and he got in a little bit. He’s a really smart football player.
“He’s got Landes Williams right there who is a great athlete and he’s put in the time and he’s fully capable. Who wants it? We’ll find out. It’s a fun thing for us to sit back and watch them compete.”
Regardless of who is behind center, they will be throwing to a familiar target.
“Then on the outsides we have Parker Denning, another returner from last year,” Doherty said. “Really good athlete, blocks really well and catches really well. We’re excited about that.
“In the other receiver spot, we’ve got a bunch of different formations where we’re putting our guys in the best situation possible. The other one is open. Let’s compete and see who wins it.”
Competition is a word that will be referred to often when speaking about Fort Madison football and the culture Doherty is already creating. Having already been the school’s strength training program coordinator, Doherty is able to work with the athletes daily and sees the development. He says it’s obvious who wants it the most.
“It can change weekly, we can flip things. I don’t believe in positions being cemented in. If they want it, go and take it from these guys. That’s what we need is competition in this program. We don’t take back seats to people and that’s the mentality were trying to instill in these guys.”
When it comes to the defensive side of the ball, there will be a few familiar names from the offensive side playing double duty.
“We return Diego (Lozano),” Doherty said. “He is going to be as good as he wants to be. He’s got a lot of natural ability and some really great instincts. If we can add that with some discipline and not making some of the mistakes that he made last year, he’s going to be special.
“We’ve got Keaton Poe as a linebacker as well. The kid has really, really good eyes. He reads better than anybody I’ve seen in a long time and has a nose for the football.”
When it comes to the defensive line, things kick off with state wrestlers in senior Danen Settles.
“He really knows how to use his hands,” Doherty said of Settles. “He’s a really, really agile big guy … We plan on using him. He’s a scrapper and he’s going to compete every play. He has a motor that’s just unreal for a big guy.”
Along with Settles, Doherty has been paying attention to the work of another lineman who would like to carve himself out a position alongside Settles.
“Jaden Fedler had a really great spring” Doherty said. “He dropped some weight, he’s faster now. I got to watch him play some basketball and he’s made some level jumps. It’s been really impressive.”
While the Fort Madison hometown crowd will see and hear old and new names alike on Friday nights this fall, there will be one constant throughout – how hard the Hounds compete each time they step on the field.
“Attitude and effort,” Doherty said are his biggest vocal points and goals for the season. “I’m a firm believer that with attitude and effort, you can do a lot of special things. We’re trying to really instill that into our kids, just bring your best every day and if you do, good things will happen.”