Eric Gabe drives by the Wapello football stadium every day on his way to work at Louisa-Muscatine High School.
He can’t help but think of last season’s double-overtime loss his Louisa-Muscatine football team suffered at the hands of Wapello in his first game as head coach.
“That double-overtime loss still sticks with me,” Gabe said. “I don’t feel like we lost the game but they won the game.”
This year, Gabe says it’s time for the Falcons to learn how to win.
“We just need to figure out how to win, just put four quarters together and trust each other,” Gabe said. “Become battle-tested. When we can put those things together, I think we’re going to be all right.”
The Falcons return all but three players off last year’s team that went 3-6. They have a 15-player senior class and around 40 kids on their roster, 10 more than they finished with last season.
Louisa-Muscatine is led by do-it-all quarterback Chase Kruse, who has led the team in passing and rushing yards each of the last two seasons. Last season, Kruse passed for 762 yards, rushed for 872 yards and accounted for 16 total touchdowns.
Gabe, who took over as the school’s athletic director earlier this summer, says the leadership shown by the senior class has been excellent. That starts with his quarterback.
“He’s going to be a successful kid, he’s going to be somebody’s boss someday because he gets it,” Gabe said of Kruse. “He’s missed one weight room session since I’ve been here and he was sicker than a dog. He just wants to compete.
“It’s a dream for me as a head coach to have my quarterback be all in for me and give me a chance to start a program.”
Kruse will have weapons surrounding him, too. Maxwell McCulley (402 rushing yards) and Brock Jeambey (243 receiving yards) both return. Hayden Calvelage, Kaden Schneider and Wylie Jacobs will all have a chance to contribute on offense.
The Falcons will also be strong on the offensive front, led by seniors Gabe Hayes and Sam Kessel.
Kessel was lost due to injury in the second game of last season, and the Falcons’ offensive line never recovered.
“That made it difficult for us up front, he was a leader up there,” Gabe said. “He’s back and healthy, and we’re pretty excited about him. We have a senior-dominated team and feel good about our ability to have some success.”
Defensively, it’s a lot of those same names for the Falcons. Kruse, Jeambey, Jacobs and Schneider make up the secondary, while Kessel, Hayes, Calvelage and McCulley lead the front seven.
With that in mind, what would make a successful season for Louisa-Muscatine, which hasn’t had a winning season in at least a decade?
Gabe doesn’t want to put a number on it, but the second-year coach admitted a winning season would go a long way for the program.
“If we come together and improve throughout the season, we’re going to have a competitive football team at L-M,” Gabe said. “I’m selfish; I want to win every game. A winning season would be a success for us.”
Gabe says he’s still learning his team’s strengths and weaknesses.
But the L-M coach knows one thing after an offseason of hard work: The Falcons have the leadership and work ethic necessary to put a winning product on the football field this fall.
“I’m not sure it matters what play you call or what defense you line up in if you don’t have leadership and kids working hard,” Gabe said. “That’s where I really feel we have an advantage.”