By: Dana Becker, The Messenger Sports Reporter
After two-plus decades of being led out by Kevin Twait, the Iowa Central football program will usher in the Jesse Montalto era this Saturday afternoon.
The Tritons welcome 13th-ranked Butler to Dodger Stadium, with kickoff set for noon.
Twait announced his retirement last year after the Tritons snapped a 25-game losing skid with an upset of Butler in Kansas, 7-0. Montalto was hired shortly after, coming over following four consecutive bowl victories at Ellsworth.
Along with a new coaching staff came a new set of players on both sides of the ball, including several former FBS Div. I athletes from schools such as Baylor, Central Florida, South Florida and Arkansas State.
"We've been grinding now for almost seven weeks and the kids are anxious to go out and hit somebody else," Montalto said. "We've just got to make sure to have them play smart along with fast football. We can't have any dumb mistakes or penalties because we are too excited."
The offense will be led by one of those transfers in Blake Dever, who sat out last season at Arkansas State after transferring from Savannah State. He was a true freshman starter for Savannah State following a standout career in Florida.
"We are going to ride the shoulder of Blake," Montalto said. "He's our guy on offense. We've got some really good pieces around him and we're going to trust him to make the right decisions on the field."
Iowa Central averaged just over 12 points and 214 yards per game in 2017, numbers Montalto plans to surpass early and often each week.
Jatoiviay Hill and Draven Peeples are the top two running backs. Hill, from Davenport Central, ran for over 1,400 yards and 22 touchdowns last year. Peeples, out of Wisconsin, finished his career with over 2,600 yards and 40 scores.
Fountain had 68 tackles last year, Martens recorded 59 and scored on an interception return vs. Butler, and Slater had 5.5 stops for loss. Cuvelier was injured in the season opener and lost for the year.
"Michael and Spencer are going to be our anchors on defense," Montalto said. "They have played in some big time football games and know what it takes."
The loss by Butler last year snapped a streak of 213 home games without being shutout, a run that started on October 21, 1978. It was also the first-time Iowa Central had ever topped the Grizzlies on the gridiron, and was the first home defeat for Butler vs. an Iowa school in six games.
Butler was picked third to finish third in the Jayhawk Conference preseason poll behind defending league champion No. 5 Independence and 10th-rated Garden City.
"In JUCO football, it is tough to get a good ready on anybody at the start of the year,"Montalto said. "We know Butler brought in some kids in the secondary and have a very talented quarterback that they redshirted last year."
All three quarterbacks who saw action for the Grizzlies last year have moved in Chris Helbig, Steven Frank and Brady Rust. Also gone are leading rushers Kevon Abrams and Isaiah Truss, along with top receivers C.J. Sims, Myron Mitchell and Gerrit Prince.
Replacing Helbig will be Trae Self, who is also a standout baseball player. As a high school senior in Texas, Self was voted the District 8-5A offensive most valuable player by throwing for over 3,200 yards and 41 touchdowns.
"We've been to Dodger Stadium three times this week to practice so we should have a comfort level for the kickoff," Montalto said. "It would be nice to go out and set the tone for the season and make a good impression in Week1 to show everybody what we are about as a program with the new regime."