From 2005 to 2014, the Grand Island Central Catholic football team made the state playoffs every season for a school-record 10 consecutive seasons.
Since then, they have only reached the playoffs once, losing 46-33 to Wilber-Clatonia in 2020.
The Crusaders are looking to get back to where they think they belong and running back Ben Alberts (5-foot-11, 170 pounds) thinks they can do just that this year.
“I think we would all like to make the playoffs, and I think that’s very possible with the schedule we have,” Alberts said. “If that doesn’t happen, I think a winning record is definitely one of our biggest goals.”
GICC football coach Tim Dvorak, entering his sixth season at his alma mater, loved what he saw from his guys at camp and said his guys were determined to improve.
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“I’m very happy with how we trained this year,” Dvorak said. “We seem extremely focused and we’ve come out with the intention of improving every day. Every practice has been our best practice. The energy has been high. Things have been positive. We’ve had great pop-up leadership. I wouldn’t change a thing yet with the way these guys worked.
GICC was trailing in the offseason and appears to be trailing throughout the year by two of its returning starters, Alberts and offensive lineman Connor Johnson (5-9, 170).
Alberts said he was doing everything he could to improve the team.
“I want to make sure our team wins every game possible and be there to help the team play as well as possible,” Alberts said.
Dvorak said these two stepped up and their leadership skills spread to the rest of the team.
“You can probably enumerate the majority of guys on our team right now who are in some kind of leadership position,” Dvorak said. “It’s to the point where they’re just coaching young guys. They ask each other questions, help each other and stay positive. They’re starting to steer and it’s something every coach wants and dreams of the day a team starts to steer.
Alberts and Johnson both play linebackers for the Crusaders. Alberts had 78 tackles and 9 tackles for loss last season, while Dvorak called Johnson “the most naturally gifted inside linebacker” he has ever coached. Dvorak said he was “extremely pleased” with this position group and believes it will be the team’s strength in their 3-4 defence.
“I think we’re going to be very tough, especially in our core linebackers,” Dvorak said. “We have guys coming back with a lot of experience and a lot of heart, who are just physical, natural football players. I’m excited to see them flying around the field this year, and we have guys replacing them.
He also believes the offensive and defensive line are team strengths with returning junior starters Barrett Obermiller (5-10, 190) and Sam Mueller (5-8, 150) alongside Johnson.
In other groups, especially in offensive skill positions, the GICC lost a lot of seniors upon graduation. The only starter returning to wide receiver is Jack Steenson (5-10, 150). As they rely on new players to strengthen, Dvorak said he was happy with what he saw and would try to be balanced in attack.
“Every year you’re going to have your strengths and your weaknesses, but you always have to keep the defense guessing and keep them on their toes,” Dvorak said.
The Crusaders, who finished 3-6 last season, will be led at quarterback this year by Zenon Sack and run a spread offense. They face three teams ranked in the Omaha World-Herald preseason rankings: the C-2 class No. 10 David City Aquinas, No. 8 Hastings St. Cecilia, and No. 4 Battle Creek.
Alberts said he felt the schedule was a bit lighter than last season and that, combined with the team atmosphere this year, would lead to an improved record.
“There’s not a lot of negativity in the team and that’s good, and there seems to be a lot more leadership in this team than there was last year,” Alberts said. .
GICC opens the season Friday in a home game against Centura, which they beat 14-7 last season. To finish with a better record than last year, Dvorak said they just had to be a family on the pitch.
“The message is simple: we just need to focus on ourselves and improve every day,” Dvorak said. If we can come together and be a team and a family here together and improve every day, no matter who we face.
“Centura adds a little extra there. There has been a good rivalry in recent years, and that’s how we ended the season last year. It adds a bit of motivation, but as long as we stay focused on ourselves and stick together as a family, I like where things are going.