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New coach, new faces, new season for Knights football
August 25, 2019

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2018 Record 6-4 (L to Waukon in State Playoffs)

Head Coach Pospisil

The 2018 season would prove to be a tough outing for the Union Knights in what turned out to be Coach Joe Hadachek's final season at the helm of the program. The Knights entered District play 2-2 before stunning Benton 34-6 on their way to a four-game winning streak when it mattered the most for postseason aspirations. West Marshall would crush Union's chance at winning the District outright, yet a three-way tie would give the Knights their 11th consecutive playoff berth. Waukon would spell the end to the season for Union with a 40-11 win.

"I thought we had a lot of talent last year and performed really well," coach Jared Pospisil said. "We came up short and I feel that's a driving force this year to finish strong and continue along the tradition that has been started here at Union."

Pospisil served as an assistant coach for the Knights from 2008 to 2012, which included coaching the 2011 3A championship team, before taking a leave from the team until returning in 2018 as a volunteer coach. A special education teacher at Union High School, Pospisil remained close to the program and was named head coach of the football program in February after Hadachek's resignations in December of 2018. He has retained a majority of last year's staff for the 2019 season.

"I still came into this season with a growth mindset, talking about always trying to get better and do your job," Pospisil said. "We want to be focused, crisp and accurate. Our staff has used that to help transition into a new season."

While the staff will be returning, a vast majority of last season's starts will not be. 21 seniors graduated from Union back in May, leaving Pospisil and co. with a daunting task of rebuilding a varsity team.

"We're asking some different guys to step up who haven't had a chance in the past," Pospisil said. "It's changed the way we teach things, just to make sure that everyone is ready to contribute without having to solely rely on certain guys. This is a team effort this season just because of the lack of numbers."

One player the Union faithful will undoubtedly remember from last season is senior Brayden Grosse, who battled Dylan Feldermann last season for quarterback and ultimately saw his best action as a backup running back and slot receiver, tallying 770 yards (638 rushing, 132 receiving). The La Porte native would finish 2018 as Union leading scorer with 98 total points and also contributed 23.5 total tackles.

"Last season was an awesome experience for me personally because I earned a lot of playing times, reps, and I hope that experience helps me out this season," Grosse said. "It was cool to keep the playoff streak alive. It's a tradition here. You're expected to make the playoffs. We need to do the same this year."

Grosse will be moving to running back while also getting reps at receiver once again this season, moving away from the quarterback position he shared with Feldermann. He has been working on his footwork as he prepares for his final season."

"Brayden will have a lot of weight on his shoulders and I think he's already handling it well," Pospisil said. "He's been very open to lining up from running back to receiver at times. He knows he's got to be on his A game."

As for his former position at quarterback, junior Brandon Tompkins and sophomore Grant Behrens are currently battling for playing time as the look to replace Feldermann's productive 2018 season (1138 passing yards, eight touchdowns).

"Both guys are great competitors and each bring different skill sets," Popsisil said. "Grant is a bit more of throwing quarterback and Brandon is more of a runner, though his throwing ability is progressing well. We're keeping all options open with the lack of numbers. Everything needs to be ready to go. If we need to play both of them in different scenarios, we will."

After experiencing a tight battle for the spot last year and ultimately sharing duties over the course of the season, Grosse knows exactly what both players are going through this preseason.

"It is a competitive battle, but you have to find who fits best at that position for the team," Grosse said. "If someone is good there and you can find you're better somewhere, do what's best for the team."

When not running the Knight's offense, the other will be welcomed in a receiving corp that saw a vast majority graduate last season, including Britton Rolison (474 yards, 25 receptions) and Silver Schmitz (381 yards, 37 receptions). Though the Knights saw big moments from both play makers in 2018, the run game will continue to be a staple of Knights football under Pospisil.

"Our offense will be really similar to last year," Pospisil said. "Coach Denner has done a great job of approaching it a little bit differently. The implementation is different, but it will look similar."

The Union defense will also be looking to new players for productivity after losing All-District players in Kyle Gross, (64 total tackles), Bryce Parker (42.5 total tackles), Lane Albertsen (25.5 total tackles) and seniors.

"Defense will also be similar with Coach Carlson getting them ready and focused," Pospisil said. "We'll throw a couple of new wrinkles in later."

Stepping in this year will be senior Hunter Heitmann at middle linebacker leading the defense. Knowing his role will increase dramatically this season after posting 15.5 total tackles in 2018, Heitmann has spent his offseason in the weight room and on the track running for conditioning to prepare himself.

"Losing some many seniors last year definitely took a toll on us, but I feel we're going to bounce back well," Heitmann said. "We're looking solid in practice. Depth is an issue and we're only going with four linebackers this season. If anyone gets hurt, it will be hard on the team."

Special teams is also a concern for the Knights. Amid rebuilding the defense, Pospisil has seen several players step up and expects big years out of them.

"We are still trying to iron out things with our special teams, but I feel it's getting better every day," Pospisil said. "Liam Stone has shown he can be a force on both lines because he's powerful. Hunter Heitmann has been a great leader and I see him making a huge impact on defense as play caller. Brandon Stech is anchoring our secondary and will do a good job there."

Once again, the Knights will see their varsity unit full of seniors as number throughout the program have declined. With experience low this season, Heitmann believes its his responsibility to step up as a leader.

"I need to make an impact on the young guys as a senior," Heitmann said. "This season is going to be a grind. It's all about making that work pay off on Friday night and having fun."

2019 will mark the second season in District #7, which saw Union, West Marshall and Benton Community all make the state playoffs last season. The Knights will also host the reigning class 1A champions in Dike-New Hartford in their non-conference slate.

"We'll be on the road a little more this year and we've talked about how it doesn't matter where we play," Pospisil said. ""Our non-conference will certainly test us early. "These teams have had a lot of success and we're happy for that challenge. There's some coaching turnover in our District. We'll be feeling each other out this season, questioning what will be the same, what will be different."

"We can perform well in our District and come out on top is my predictions," Grosse added. "I'm looking forward to Benton the most, another crack at West Marshall, Dike will be fun because we're close to each other."

But to come out on top of what is believed to be one of the top Districts again in 2A, the Knights will have to adjust to new pieces quickly and maintain confidence throughout what promises to be a long second year with their current schedule.

"What I want people to see when they watch our team is we're focus, crisp and accurate the moment we hit the field," Pospisil said. "We want to be resilient and finish our year strong. If we do those things, I feel we can have some success this year."

The Knights will open their 2019 season at Beckman Catholic on Friday, Aug. 30 before their first home game vs North Fayette Valley on September 6. Homecoming will be held on October 11 against Vinton-Shellsburg.

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