ALBIA — The Albia football team had an incredible run this season, and the Blue Demons were lavishly rewarded for their feats on the gridiron with an assortment of honors this offseason.
This past season the Blue Demons embarked on a historic run that brought a whole community together, as Albia’s citizens coalesced around its football team. For anyone who harbors any doubts about the affect the football team’s success had on instilling a strong sense of pride in the community would only of had to gaze at the sea of blue shirts that filled the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls when the second-ranked Blue Demons played Waukon in the Class 2A semifinals this past Saturday.
“For our community, if you saw, our stands were packed today,” Blake Bayer said after Albia fell to the Indians 27-21. “The first day the tickets were sold there were a thousand sold an hour. It was crazy, so our community is a big part of it, we really wanted to make sure we looked good for our community.”
“It’s about the pride that was developed in the community,” Albia football coach Jerry Staton added, “and the spirit that Albia showed during this terrific run that we had. I’m just so proud of our community and our kids.”
Indeed, it was a magical run for the Blue Demons — a run where the entire community hitched a ride. After it finished the regular seasons with 9 wins and zero losses, Albia made school history by winning its first-ever playoff game and then some. And, even though the Blue Demons’ season didn’t culminate with the state championship the team desired, that doesn’t erase all Albia accomplished on the gridiron.
“There are a lot of tears being shed in our locker room and I tell them there should be tears of joy that that they made the journey, not tears that they lost the game,” Staton said. “The trophy is a nice thing to put in a trophy case, but the trophy is not what the season is about; it’s about the journey.”
Albia had an august year defensively, allowing 20 or more points in only three of its 13 games. Offensively, the Blue Demons scored over 40 points in eight games and only once scored in single digits — a 7-0 victory over Mediapolis that earned them a berth into the Class 2A semifinals.
Alex Schultz, after he ascended to the top running back spot on the team, was often at the vanguard of the Blue Demons’ offensive success. He ran for just shy a thousand yards with 997 yards and 15 touchdowns on 164. Schultz, despite a nagging ankle injury that rendered him to the sideline for good chunk of of Albia’s playoff runs, put forth a valiant effort in the semifinals, rushing for two touchdowns while playing in less than 100 percent condition.
“He sprained his ankle a couple of games ago,” Staton said. “He tried to heal it and it kept him out of one playoff game and kept him out of half of another one. He scored two touchdowns on a sore foot. Just a super, super young man. You saw how he did when he was dinged up, think what he is when he’s healthy.”
In addition, Brett Leshen, had a tremendous season behind center at quarterback. Indeed, his season was good enough to get him named Class 2A, District 6 All Performance offensive MVP.
“I’m really proud and happy for him,” Staton said. “Last year he was one vote from being tied with the guy who won the defensive MVP. That speaks well for his all-around talent as a player.”
Staton said a surplus of experience has helped Leshen become the player he is today: Leshen has started at quarterback in at least one game all three years of his career.
“He’s certainly developed into a very good leader,” Staton said. “By his good faking and his foot speed, he causes them to assign someone to him on every play or he will scoot around the end and into the end zone. His ability is certainly an asset. He can run, pass and kick.”
Leshen threw for 20 interceptions and only four interceptions. In addition, he rushed for 377 yards and five touchdowns. Staton, the Blue Demon’s famous veteran coach, also was recognized for his teams exploits on the football field, as he was named Class 2A, District 6 All-Performance Coach of the Year.
“It just wouldn’t have been possible without the efforts of other coaches and players,” Staton said. “I’m just a coach being pulled along by a bunch of stallions and it’s great to go along for ride. The coach doesn’t do it himself by any means. I’m honored the other district coaches recognized our efforts.”
Staton and Leshen were far from the only Blue Demons to be recognized for their contributions to Albia’s success-filled season. The Class 2A, District 6 All-Performance first and second teams are both swimming with Albia players.
“Team strength helped this group a lot,” Staton said. “They got into the weight room and paid the price and they reaped the rewards of their efforts.”
Offensive lineman Nick Yarkosky was named to first-team team offensive lineman.
“He’s a big strong kid,” Staton said about Nick Yarkosky. Also, fellow lineman Ryan Romanco got named to the second team.
“Ryan Ramanco will be an outstanding lineman as well,” Staton said. “Those two side by side make a pretty good blocking tandem.”
Zach Hugen, who caught 36 receptions and 15 touchdowns for 917 yards this season, was selected first-team wide receiver.
“Exceptionally soft hands,” Staton added about Hugen. “They had to double-cover him, if they didn’t he would burn them bad.”
Griffin Osing, Albia’s hard-charging fullback also made first team offense. Defensively, defensive lineman Dalton Folkerts, linebacker Bryce Leshen, defensive back Bayer and linebacker Ryan Sarver as a utility player all made the first team.
Aside from Romanco, the other Blue Demons who made the offensive second team included running back Matt Baker and receiver Luke Sarver. Defensively, linebacker Hugh Sinclair, defensive lineman Brenden Bassett and defensive back Shadow Leshen all made the second team. Leshen, however, didn’t play in Albia’s final game against Waukon.
Despite all the accolades and honors, what may be even more valuable for this group of Albia players are the abundance of memories they accumulated during the course of the season.
“It’s about the experiences that you have with your football brothers,” Staton said.
To follow Andy Heintz’s Twitter feed, go to @heintz23