The first football season in Collins-Maxwell Spartan history was one full of challenges as the Spartans battled depth issues, extreme inexperience and issues with adjusting to a whole new style of play.
After the sports-sharing agreement between Collins-Maxwell and Baxter ended prior to the start of the 2017-18 school year, the football athletes at both schools had to move from traditional 11-man football to 8-man ball. Neither team was put in a district due to it not being a redistricting year, thus leaving both ineligible for the postseason.
Collins-Maxwell got the short end of the stick in terms of experienced players returning — no players for the Spartans saw any meaningful varsity snaps for Collins-Maxwell-Baxter last season.
“It was a very difficult challenge,” Collins-Maxwell head football coach Cory Crnkovich said. “Our team and coaching staff have only been around 11-man. There were a lot of adjustments we had throughout the year. We tried certain packages, plays, etc. to see what would work in 8-man that might have been a little more of an 11-man scheme. Some packages worked and some didn’t. It was a great learning experience for the team and the coaching staff.”
The Spartans didn’t have big numbers at the start of the year, and to make matters worse, health problems started mounting up as the season progressed.
“Injuries were our biggest challenge,” Crnkovich said. “We have 20 guys to start out with and it seemed like each week we had someone go down. They weren’t just ‘walk it off’ type of injuries. Most of them were season-ending injuries.”
The schedule also provided a huge obstacle. The majority of teams Collins-Maxwell faced were ranked at some point during the season.
With all the adversity going against the Spartans, they ended up with an 0-9 record.
Collins-Maxwell fell to eventual state qualifiers Moravia (70-0), Boyer Valley (50-0), Audubon (75-0) and Newell-Fonda (63-6) during the season.
The Spartans also came up short against Clarinda Academy (58-0), a 7-3 Ar-We-Va team (73-0), Coon Rapids-Bayard (63-14), Glidden-Ralston (63-0) and Wayne (54-0).
“We knew what we were up against and we battled through a very tough year,” Crnkovich said. “We competed every game. It just shows me the heart we had as a team. They just wanted to play and compete. They took on a huge challenge and I couldn’t be more proud of how our team handled this season.”
Despite not getting into the win column, Crnkovich said it was a great experience for his players to get to compete as Spartans for the first time.
“The biggest highlight from our season wasn’t the touchdowns we scored or long passes we completed, it was seeing the support from our community,” Crnkovich said. “We had parents, family, fans, etc. driving all over the place to support our team. We had fans who supported us all year long when in some games it wasn’t going our way on the scoreboard. They cheered all game long and all season long. The boys loved it.”
Crnkovich said his team improved each week, despite the challenges it faced. He also credited his players for being able to fill in the holes left by injured players throughout the season.
“Our biggest strength was being very flexible,” Crnkovich said. “With guys going down, we had to put guys in some spots they never thought they would play. Each week we had to move some guys around and they managed to take on the challenge full steam ahead. Our players just wanted to play, so if we need them to fill in a certain spot, they didn’t hesitate.”
For the season, Collins-Maxwell averaged 112.8 yards and 2.2 points per game. The Spartans allowed 62.9 points and 335.1 yards per game.
Sophomores Kadin Bennett and Simon McKinney and freshman Mason Markley split time running the offense for Collins-Maxwell.
Bennett threw for 419 yards with two touchdowns and six interceptions and Marley threw for 175 yards with four interceptions. McKinney was the most consistent passer when healthy, completing 15 of 31 passes for 131 yards with one touchdown.
Sophomore Brett Livesay was the top Spartan playmaker. Taking advantage of his 6-6 size, Livesay caught 26 passes for 406 yards and one touchdown.
Senior Brock Staudt made five receptions for 180 yards and one touchdown. Sophomore Jordan Barrett made 12 grabs for 72 yards and one score, and added 38 yards rushing.
Bennett caught five passes for 33 yards, Michael Hartgers made two receptions for 32 yards and A.J. Smith had one grab for two yards. Hartgers also ran for 123 yards and was one of the team’s top blockers.
Junior Caleb Fullerton led the team in rushing with 147 yards. Senior Cody Haugen ran for 31 yards and like Hartgers, was also a tough blocker on the line; freshman Rylee Scott picked up eight yards rushing.
On defense Fullerton racked up 32.5 tackles and Livesay 31 tackles plus two interceptions. Hartgers finished with 26.5 tackles and a fumble recovery, Haugen 17.5 tackles, two tackles for loss and a fumble recovery; Cody Galbraith 23 tackles and one tackle for loss and Bennett 13 stops.
Smith and Hunter Claire each made 9.5 tackles and Barrett and Nash Kennedy nine stops apiece. Kennedy also came up with two tackles for loss and one sack and Claire one tackle behind the line.
Scott chipped in 6.5 tackles, Zach Martinez 4.5 and Staudt, Tate Ewing and Mitchell Bienfang 1.5 apiece. Bubba Henry tacked on one tackle for loss.
Barrett handled the punting duties, averaging 27.8 yards on 45 punts. He also led the team in kickoff return yards (216) and Fullerton added 88 return yards.
Next season, Collins-Maxwell hopes to make big strides and get into the win column. The Spartans lose Staudt, Haugen, Hartgers, Kennedy, Galbraith and Ewing, but return a strong nucleus.
“I can’t thank the senior class enough for what they did for this program this year,” Crnkovich said. “They knew going into the season, no matter what our record was, that we were not playoff eligible. They didn’t have to even go out. They took on a huge test that’ll a lot of kids wouldn’t have. This senior class had a lot of grit. They all bought into what our coaching staff was trying to do. I’m proud of each and every one of them. I hope whatever they do after they graduate they can take something from this season and use it in their life in a positive way.”
The Spartan coach added that Haugen is an especially good example of having the right attitude and work ethic needed to build a program that he hopes his returning and incoming new players will try and emulate in 2018.
“One senior I would like to point out is Cody Haugen,” Crnkovich said. “At the beginning of the year we have a Spartan for a Spartan. It’s a little something I took from my head coach from high school. This is a way figure out why some kids play the game of football. The overall gist of the Spartan for a Spartan is to find out what it means to be a Spartan. I will never forget Cody’s paper. Cody never played football his whole life. He stated in his paper he went out for the team because he wanted to do it for his school. He wanted to be a part of the new Spartan era. He wanted to be a part of something bigger than himself. It guys like him who can change the culture of our football team to a winning one. We need a lot more people like Cody.”