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KCRG Football Player and Coach of The Year: Jake Hogan And Paul James

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CEDAR FALLS Don Bosco's championship football season or its successful turnaround may never have happened.

Well, it may not have occurred with Jake Hogan leading the way.

The insistence of a new head coach persuaded Hogan to continue playing football his freshman year. The result was the Dons' first state football title and a senior season at quarterback that ended with 4,183 total yards of offense, including 2,577 rushing, 71 total touchdowns. For his performance, Hogan was named KCRG-TV9/The Gazette Player of the Year.

Hogan is happy with his choice to play football instead of focusing more on wrestling and baseball.

"I don't have a clue where I'd be without playing football," Hogan said. "I'm pretty happy I did that. I thank Coach (Colby) Yoder for that, saving me a little bit there."

Yoder was considering the opportunity to take over the program, but wasn't sold unless he knew Hogan and some of his classmates would suit up for him.

"There is some truth to that," Yoder said. "Jake wasn't coming out, but that was a stipulation that if I was going to come to Bosco that Jake would play football. There were a few other kids, too. I got them out.

"I coached these guys in sixth grade. I knew they had a lot of potential for all of them growing up and being a decent class for football."

It couldn't have turned out any better for Yoder, Hogan and the Dons, who posted a 26-1 mark the last two seasons with consecutive trips to the 8-man championship game. After a runner-up finish last year, Hogan said the Dons were focused on pulling away from the opposition.

"We weren't going to settle for anything besides first," Hogan said. "We took that attitude through the whole season and we tried to dominate every game."

Hogan's impact came in his final quarter. He rushed for two touchdowns, crossing the goal line on a 1-yard run for the decisive score with 1:13 remaining in an 18-14 win over Exira-EHK. It completed a double-digit comeback, trailing 14-0 at halftime.

"Jake has a will to win," Yoder said. "You can't coach it. Some kids got it and some don't."

His instincts as a leader kicked in during halftime. Both Yoder and Hogan said he is more of a leader by example. He rallied his teammates.

"I looked at a couple of guys and they had their heads down a little," Hogan said. "I said we can do this. I didn't doubt for a second that we could win. We stuck to what we normally do. We just had to man-up and do it better."

Hogan led the Dons with 111 rushing yards and 172 passing in the championship game. It was indicative of his entire career, tallying more than 9,600 yards the last three seasons. He was the Dons' leading passer and rusher since his sophomore year, compiling 3,727 total last year and 1,700 in 2011.

He also led the team in scoring the last two seasons, scoring 325 points this year. He had 206 as a junior. Interestingly, he started as a wide receiver as a freshman. He played quarterback for a junior varsity game that year and Yoder was ready for a switch. Hogan resisted at first but changed for the team.

"We saw some things when we put him at quarterback," Yoder said. "He could run and pass. It's a pretty good weapon when you can do a lot of things both running and passing as a dual threat.

"He's a tough guy to prepare for. I will tell you that much."

He was contributed as a defensive back and returner. He returned two kickoffs for touchdowns this season, averaging 32.2 yards per return. He also led the Dons with interceptions as a sophomore. Hogan admits he likes to run the ball more than anything.

"I ran at least double the amount of times I threw," Hogan said. "I just feel like I can make the plays when I run it. It's a little more in my control."

Hogan is an accomplished wrestler as well. He has qualified for the Class 1A state tournament each year, placing third as a sophomore and eighth last year. Hogan has more than 110 career wins. Wrestling helps with success in football.

"Wrestling, I'd say, is the toughest sport. You have to be mentally tough and disciplined," Hogan said. "It just transfers over to the field and never giving up."

The Dons have been used to comebacks, rising from the lower ranks. Don Bosco started its program in 2004 and took its lumps to get to this point. The ascension began somewhat during the 2011 season. During Hogan's first full varsity season at quarterback, the Dons won the season-opening game against Belle Plaine in overtime. They had a winning record, matching the win total from the previous season.

"I'm not going to say it felt better than the state championship or anything but winning that game and starting 1-0 was pretty special," Hogan said. "I feel like it turned the program around a little."

Yoder said Hogan had a strong cast of players around him. Hogan earned their respect and made others better. He will be missed and his shoes won't be filled easily on and off the field.

"He's just a great kid," Yoder said. "He has been a fun kid to be around here."

CEDAR RAPIDS When the subject of returning to coach football at Cedar Rapids Washington was first broached with Paul James last spring, he more or less brushed it off.
He had been away from the game for seven years and had plenty on his plate already as the school's athletics director. He was 59 years old.

It just didn't make sense. Or did it?

"'Why not?'" Karen James said she told her husband when he first mentioned something to her about it. "If I had said it wasn't a good idea, he probably wouldn't have done it. Which would have been too bad."

Wives are always right. After a family meeting and a meeting with some of Washington's assistant coaches, James decided to make a comeback.

Call it a successful one. Washington won six straight games to finish the regular season, claimed the Mississippi Valley Conference's Valley Division championship and made a Class 4A state playoff appearance.

He provided stability, brought back together a community that appeared to have been fractured by the resignation of Tony Lombardi. The controversial coach stepped down amid a state investigation into allegations of player and student mistreatment.

Lombardi had plenty of detractors but just as many, if not more, supporters. It was a rough situation James stepped into, one he handled with aplomb.

Because of that, he was named Coach of the Year in the Metro and MVC Valley Division. The Gazette and KCRG has selected him COY of its all-area football team.

"Yeah, I think there probably was some (healing necessary)," James said. "Everyone seemed to have an opinion, one way or the other. So I think maybe my familiarity with the school, with football at Washington (helped). This being my 38th year here, for a certain segment, I don't think I had to prove myself to them. I didn't necessary feel that I did.

"With the coaches that we had and everything, knowing that we had good kids, I felt that eventually we were going to be pretty good. But I think that maybe it happened a little bit sooner. You didn't really know what to expect."

The first go-around, James had a 58-48 record in 11 seasons at Washington, including a Class 4A state runner-up finish in 2003. He was a longtime assistant at the school, replacing the legendary Wally Sheets when he retired in 1995.

The Cedar Falls native took over the school's AD job in 2006, stepping aside from coaching for good. That's what he thought anyway.

"I never really thought of returning as a possibility, didn't think it was ever in the cards," James said. "So I thought that 'OK, maybe when the time comes to retire, I'll help somewhere doing something.' But this came along and the possibility arose that maybe I could coach again. It all kind of worked out."

Thanks to his staff and "really good kids," James made what seemed an easy transition back to the game. He left the defense up to assistant Mo Blue, tweaking his offensive playbook but using much of the same terminology he always had.

Washington's players adapted pretty easily. That included to having James and Blue coach from the press box during games.

"There was a certain thought that maybe I needed to be on the sideline," he said. "I did it that first game. But for 19 years as a defensive coordinator, I had been in the press box, and for the last (few) years as head coach, I was in the press box ... I just feel so much more comfortable with what I can see from the press box. When you have confidence in your staff, it works."

The future of Washington football appears bright. Several key players will return next season, while the Warriors' sophomore and freshmen teams both went 9-0, with the sophomore record coming despite wide receiver-defensive back Isaiah Nimmers and running back-linebacker Johnny Dobbs as varsity starters.

James will lead the way.

"When I accepted the job, I didn't want it to be for one year, or as an interim or anything," he said. "I said that if I was going to do this, I was going to come back and do it for awhile. I don't know how long that will be. One of my mentors, Pat Mitchell, is still coaching (at Cedar Falls). Jiminy Christmas. I don't think I'll go that long."

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