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Knights football prepare for stiff competition
August 20, 2018

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Head Coach Joe Hadachek

2017 Record 8-4 (L to Williamsburg at State)

Very few people outside of the Union coaching staff had high expectations for the Union football program in 2017, let alone returning to the UNI Dome after 2016's State Finalist team made some noise in 2A. The Knights will strive to make their third consecutive trip to Cedar Falls this season against several teams moving down from 3A to 2A and with a schedule that has no games off.

The Knights will feature 21 seniors in the 2019 class, a larger class than the 11 2018 seniors gone from the program. While head coach Joe Hadachek knows the quality of those seniors-Koby Alpers, Troy Hanus, Carter Brehm and Jace Glenn-will be hard to replace, Union does have several positions solidified going forward.

"Number one, I think we will be solid up front both ways with four of the five starters on the o-line back from last year," Hadachek said. "A healthy Kaleb Roach can definitely be a big factor behind our line at running back, so it's really the skill guys we are looking to. We had big plays from Koby Alpers, Britt Rolison and Kaleb Roach last season. I'm not sure we are going to be that explosive this year, but we have to sustain drives when we get the oppurtunity."

With Alpers putting up 1,000+ yards last season graduated, Rolison and Roach will step into larger roles on offensive this year at wide receiver and running back respectively. Roach posted 935 yards last season, 891 coming from the running game as he looks to make the next step his senior season despite a hamstring injury over the track season.

"Personally, I felt I could have had a better season and it made me want to come back even stronger this season," Roach said. "I've done a lot of exercises to get back to full speed and learning how everything works on the field, not just what I'm doing."

One of the returning offensive linemen this season will be senior Lane Albertsen at left guard and a defensive end on the other side of the ball. A letterwinner from the 2017 team, Albertsen admitted there weren't as many expectations to get to the dome again last season, but hopes to do whatever he possibly can to return in 2018.

"I've been in the weight room to get as strong as I can be," Albertsen said. "Personally, I've been working on my mental game; knowing the plays and my assignments so there's no questions about it."

With running back and the offensive line solidified, the coaching staff have a close competition before them for quarterback between senior Dylan Felderman and junior Brayden Grosse.

"Brayden didn't plan quarterback last year, but he's athletic," Hadachek said. "Dylan is more of a drop-back style while Brayden is one you have to watch as an option guy. You'd have to flip a coin to know which one is going to start."

But no matter who gets the start, both will see action on the field. Grosse would push for minutes at running back behind Roach and as a corner on defense. Felderman could also play wide receiver and defensive back for the Knights this season if not at quarterback.

"With our intital practices, people are molding together," Hadachek said. "You have got to stay unselfish, and that's hard when you're trying to play. As we get closer to game one, someone is going to be number 1 and another number two. The key thing is approaching it one game at a time and keeping our effort, attitude keyed in on getting better."

That effort and attitude will be necessary in District #7, comprising of Benton, Nevada, Roland-Story, Vinton-Shellsburg and West Marshall. Five games will be district play and the remaining four-Beckman, North Fayette, Dike New-Hartford and Charles City- as part of a new scheduling change to have more non-district competition.

"Three of the seven teams in our state that dropped down from 3A to 2A this season happen to be in our district," Hadachek said. "We've got Benton ready to be physical and play, Vinton-Shellsburg that I have great respect for, and Nevada up and coming. I don't think we will have any easy games this year. When you look at our district compared to last we had some good teams with Waukon and Cascade, but this year I think everyone will be decent."

The 2018 season will feature a new district for Union, new opponents and different expectation going into this season, but Hadachek is "cautiously optimistic" going forward.

"We've always come out good early in the season and you want to get better as the season goes on," Hadachek said. "Last year's team did the best job of that. They went back to the dome and to get to the final four teams left, you know you're good. These guys this year, there's no doubt they want to get there. If you concentrate on getting to the dome, you'll never get there. You have to concentrate on gettting better today. That's why our motto this year is "Win the Day" and that's all we want."

If "Win the Day" sounds familiar, it's a phrase commonly used by Iowa State Head Men's Basketball Coach Steve Prohm, and a message the leadership of the team wanted to use going forward. According to Hadachek, athletes did a leadership retreat up to Hickory Hills this year as they worked to learn more about themselves and what they wanted as a team.

"The overall goal is always to get to the dome, but as we go through the season we have to look at our games one at a time," Roach said. "We started with beating Solon in a scrimmage and then we are looking to Beckman Catholic and Dike and so on this season. We have to look at each team all the same rather than look ahead to the next team."

A major boost of moral for the Knights and Union faithful this season: more home games. After only three regular season home games in 2017, the Knights will play at home for five games this season, including hosting Roland-Story for Homecoming on September 28.

"Playing for Union is a brotherhood," Albertsen said. "It's fun to play for a family. Playing at home more this season is more exciting than traveling and it's great to play in front of the home crowd. I'm looking forward to it."

More expectation and buzz going into this season is welcomed by Hadachek, but at the end of the day, he believes what he sees on the field.

"The talk of bigger expectations is one thing, but the actions, results and end product on the field is what matters," Hadachek said. "We are cautiously optimistic. Do I have faith these seniors know what it takes to win? Yes. Will they continue to pay the price? We'll have to wait and see."

The Union Knights will open the 2018 season by hosting Dyersville Beckman on Friday, August 24 in La Porte City, scheduled at 7:30 p.m.

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