The Waldorf Warriors are ready for football, and after having to patiently wait for this weekend, the team kicks off the 2018 season at Briar Cliff on today at 1 p.m. on KIOW and kiow.com.
Second-year Warrior head coach Josh Littrell and his staff didn’t rest after a 7-4 campaign last fall, going out and building a deeper, more talented team with the goal of surpassing last season’s success.
“Last season was last season and a brand new season starts this Saturday,” Coach Littrell said. “Our kids are chomping at the bit to get out there and hit somebody different.”
While it is a new season, Waldorf will depend in part on numerous veteran players on both sides of the ball from last year’s team as seven starters back on offense, and four more on defense.
Leading the way will be junior 5-foot-10 quarterback Hilton “Bo” Joseph.
Joseph completed 170-of-291 passes for 2,047 yards and 21 touchdowns through the air, then added team-highs of 773 rushing yards and 12 TDs on 115 carries last season.
“We’re excited to have him back running the offense again this year,” Littrell said of the second-year starter from Miami, Fla., “Bo is a difference maker, and I think everybody knows that.”
But key for the Warriors will be Joseph’s surround cast, a group of talented returners and newcomers who will definitely make the Waldorf offense even more prolific than the team’s average of 35 points and 437 yards per game last fall.
Protecting Joseph will be four returning starters on the offensive line, along with the addition of returning defensive lineman Zach Throne, a 6-0 sophomore who will move to offensive guard.
“That’s where games are won, up front,” Littrell said. “We’re still piecing some things together right now, making sure we have the best five on the field; that will be the difference on Saturday is how we come together up front.”
While protecting for Joseph, the Warrior line also will look to open holes for a stable of talented backs who will be led by transfer Linell Rashad Gaston (5-10, Jr.) from Trinity International in Illinois.
Gaston ran for five touchdowns and 315 yards on 54 carries last season for the Trojans. He’ll be backed up by junior-college transfer Bo Evans, and freshmen Jerkevan Harrell, Alex Pierre and John Burnett.
“We’ve got a stable of backs I’m real comfortable with,” Littrell said.
And a core of receivers who sound intimidating, as leading pass-catcher, 5-11 junior Samuel Huntley (56 receptions, 704 yards, 8 TDs) is back, along with Joseph’s No. 3 target last year in Benjamin Mau (27 receptions, 327 yards, 2 TDs), a 6-7 senior.
They’ll both be targets over the middle for the Warriors, who will look to two speedsters on the outside in Iowa Central CC transfer Ryan Martinez, a 6-1 sophomore, and NCAA D-I product Don Jones, a 6-3 junior from the University of Minnesota, to stretch opposing defenses.
While the offense looks set to surpass last season’s productivity, Coach Littrell is equally excited to see the Waldorf defense excel.
Four starters return, led by All-North Star Athletic Association two-way performance Cameron Newsome at cornerback. With more depth on offense for the Warriors, the 6-2 junior, Newsome (20 tackles, 4 interceptions) now can focus on stopping opposing passing games.
“He’s going to give us some big-play ability out there on the corner,” Littrell said.
Newsome will be joined at cornerback by 6-2 freshman James Jackson Jr., one of three freshmen the Warriors will rely on in the secondary to shut down opposing passing attacks.
“But they’re more athletic than what we were a year ago back there,” Littrell said.
And they’ll get plenty of help, as Littrell is extremely pleased with Waldorf’s front four.
Twin brothers Devin and DeShaun Quinn, both 6-5 junior transfers from Iowa Western CC, will help lead the way up front, and they’re joined by 6-2 sophomore Keyon Hodges, who redshirted with the team last year, and 6-3 senior team captain Dakota Jahnke, who had 22 tackles and 2.5 sacks last season.
That powerhouse front will open things up for the Warrior linebacking core to make big hits and help shut down opposing teams.
“I’m excited to see the changes that we made, not only personnel-wise on defense, but growing with another year under their belt,” Littrell said.
With a potent offense and solid defense set to take the field, you’d expect good things for the Warriors, but coach Littrell knows that you still have to prove yourself week after week on the gridiron, and against the best to be the best.
That’s why he isn’t surprised to see his Warriors picked to finish fourth in the league by the North Star Athletic Association coaches in their preseason poll.
“In order to get where we want to get to you have to beat the best teams in the conference, and until we prove we can do that on a consistent basis, I think that’s fair where they picked us,” Littrell said.
And after a strong season last year that included a perfect 6-0 record at home and a 5-3, third-place finish in the NSAA, Littrell knows his team will get their opponents best effort every game.
“We’re going to have to outplay people and outcoach people and put ourselves in a good position,” he said.