Starting a tradition: Inskeep leads Panthers to playoffs for first time since 2002
By Kurt Ritzman
Herald Assistant Sports Editor
CLINTON — When a team has a breakout season, often one player is a large reason for the change.
Erie/Prophetstown went 1-8 in 2011 and the senior class led by Zach Inskeep had enough. This year, the Panthers went 5-5 and made the program’s first playoff appearance in a decade.
“It all started in the offseason,” Erie/Prophetstown coach Chuck Milem said. “He was a huge leader in the weight room. Zach — and (first team linebacker) Cody Beyer — had a work ethic beyond anything we could expect. As a senior, Zach refused to have another losing season. He was going to change the program. There were many games he put us on his shoulders and carried us.”
Inskeep was a two-way first-team all-conference performer — at linebacker and running back. He carried the ball 190 times for 1,125 yards and scored 17 touchdowns and was the team’s second-leading tackler in the regular season. Because of those stats and his leadership role in the Panthers’ season, Inskeep was selected as the Herald’s all-area football Player of the Year.
“Last season was disappointing,” Inskeep said. “We only won once and got shut out a lot. It was really depressing actually. Me and the group of seniors were tired of losing. We wanted to turn the program around.”
Inskeep said he thought it could be a good season after the Panthers’ come-from-behind win over Fulton in week 1.
“That was a turning point and it gave me a preview of what the season could be,” he said.
But the turnaround really started by Inskeep picking up his phone.
“I took a leadership role during weight lifting in the summer,” he said. “I send a text to remind (other players) or I’d pick guys up if they needed a ride to weight training. I’d go lift with guys if they wanted. I think doing that really helped.”
Not only did it help the team as the whole, but the work in the weight room helped Inskeep specifically.
“He’s a downhill runner,” Milem said. “We knew he was a strong and physical runner. He had good speed as a junior, but he definitely increased his foot speed. He put a lot of work into it. When he got out in the open field nobody could catch him. He had a breakaway speed that shocked everyone around the conference, including the coaching staff.”
Inskeep, who hopes to play in college, said talking to college coaches made him focus on improving his speed. He also credited a new workout routine suggested by Milem.
“I definitely saw a big change in my squats,” Inskeep said. “The work out Milem gave us helped a lot. It made you work harder, but it produced more results. I also did agility drills and played summer basketball. I tried to run whenever I could.”
Inskeep said as soon as the baseball season finished, the focus turned to football.
“People started asking about how the football team was going to be,” he said. “I said, ‘We were hoping to put all the pieces together.’”
He added that he wanted to rush for 1,000 yards himself. He topped the 1,000-yard mark in the final regular-season game of the season.
“That’s a magical number in high school, especially since you’re only guaranteed nine games,” Inskeep said. “That’s been a lifelong goal. I was definitely sky-high when I hit that.”
Inskeep rushed for more than 200 yards in two different games.
Not only was Inskeep a force offensively, but also defensively as an outside linebacker.
“For being such a big kid, his speed was great on the edge,” Milem said. “Teams had to run away from him. We have some fast backs in our league and they couldn’t run away from him. He would also go in the box and make physical plays. We could also drop him into coverage. He was so versatile.”
But more important to Inskeep that impacting the offense or defense, was impacting the program’s culture.
“It shows hard work pays off,” he said. “You can’t beat being the team that everyone doubts and then making the playoffs,” he said. “We set a new standard for the Panthers behind us and put us in the right direction.
Inskeep said the highlights of the season were beating Morrison and making the postseason for the first time since 2002.
“We put ourselves on the map with that,” he said. “It was awesome — the pure satisfaction of helping the community, the players and the fans. Football is the only sport that can bring a community together like that.”
Miller makes impact in his first year
By Kurt Ritzman
Herald Assistant Sports Editor
CLINTON — When Mike Miller took over as head coach of Central DeWitt last summer, he said he didn’t know what to expect as far as wins and losses.
But he did know something about the Sabers.
“We knew we had a great group of kids who would do things to position themselves to be successful,” he said.
Miller said positioning yourself for success, doesn’t guarantee anything, though. And success was elusive for the Sabers early in the season. Central DeWitt lost its first two games and three of its first five.
“Starting 0-2 can be discouraging, but the kids put it in the right perspective,” Miller said. “They did things to get better. We saw steady improvement the whole year. That’s the type of character we saw all summer and in the spring before I got there. I was blessed with a great group of kids. Coach (Kurt) Kreiter did a great job of setting the foundation.”
Miller was also teaching the Sabers a new offense when he first got there — the triple option.
“We were basically building from the ground up,” Miller said. “We started with our basic sets and then went with a simple progression. We started to slowly implement the offense in camp and the first couple weeks of practice.”
He said they started implementing the offense slowly, but the players were hungry and ready to learn more.
“They had the understanding, intellect and ability to grasp the offensive concepts,” Miller said. “We progressed further than we intended to in the first year. They did the things that allowed us to be successful. That’s a credit to the kids and their ability and desire to go the extra mile. We had a veteran ballclub and great senior leadership.”
The way the Sabers attacked the offense allowed them to be the second-best rushing team in Class 3A — behind only state champion Decorah, which played two more games — with 3,636 yards. Central DeWitt had four runners gain more than 400 yards, led by Chris Keitel’s 1,358.
“It was kind of fun not to hang our hat on any one player,” Miller said. “One game it would be the quarterback, then the fullback, the next game one of the slot backs.”
That improved offense and tough defense helped the Sabers to a six-game winning streak. Led by 16 seniors, Central DeWitt won a share of the Class 3A District 6 title and advanced to the state quarterfinals, before losing to Decorah. Decorah went on to win the state and played only one game all season decided by fewer than 20 points — a 21-14 win over the Sabers.
“Our seniors responded the way we hoped they would,” Miller said. “I think they set a good foundation for us to build upon.”
He said there wasn’t a secret to their success — and what they needed to do to continue that success — fundamentals, toughness and execution.
“We need to continue the formula the juniors and seniors used — hard work,” he said. “I’m a firm believer that you’ve got to make sacrifices if you want to be successful. The kids did that.”