Sibley-Ocheyedan football team battles coronavirus, hopes to forge winning tradition
SIBLEY, Iowa -- Determined to post the school’s first winning football season since 2010, the Sibley-Ocheyedan Generals lost their chance on Friday to improve on their 3-1 start.
More than 100 students from the northwest Iowa school were quarantined last week, including several key members of the football squad, and the homecoming game against Emmetsburg was canceled.
The Generals are led this fall by four seniors, all of whom saw varsity playing time in their freshman seasons. Beau Jenness, a 5-9, 160-pound quarterback-safety; Trevor Doeden, a 5-10, 220-pound center-defensive tackle; Dylan Platt, a 5-11, 177-pound running back-linebacker; and Austin Kruger, a 6-0, 198-pound tight end, are leaders on the field and off of it. But as the Generals practiced last week without a game to play, three of them were missing because they happened to be in a class exposed to a fellow student who tested positive for COVID-19.
Doeden’s story is especially noteworthy. He went into quarantine for 14 days, finally being allowed to practice last Friday. On the very day he was supposed to have surgery for a torn meniscus, he was told he’d need to quarantine.
“Having to sit out knowing my teammates were practicing without me and having football games on Friday, it’s a hard thing. And knowing you only have one season left, and it’s taken away from you,” Doeden said.
The new plan for Doeden is to finish the season and undergo his surgery afterward.
Jenness, the only player of the four on the practice field for most of last week, considers himself lucky this season, even though he missed half of one game to nurse a knee injury. He was saved from quarantining, he explained, because he sits by the same kid (who hasn’t tested positive) for almost all of his classes.
The Generals performed well last year, winning three games and losing six. That was an improvement over 2017 and 2018, where their record was 1-8 both years. The last winning season for Sibley-Ocheyedan football occurred in 2010, and the 2020 Generals are serious about breaking that losing spell.
“I think we’ve got enough talent,” said Jenness. “Our senior class has definitely taken the leadership, and we’ve been pushing the younger classes to get in the weight room. … We’re trying to improve their leadership through the years so they can pass it down through the generations.”
Head coach Tate Kellenberger is in his second year as the leader of the program. A West Lyon High School grad who played college football at Northwestern of Orange City, he knows what it takes to succeed. And since taking over, he’s striven to improve the culture.
“I’m the type of coach where I love focusing on the leadership kind of things,” he said.
Jenness says things are much different with the program this year. It used to be, he said, that the Generals lacked leadership and enthusiasm. There was a lack of accountability with the players, he said.
Now, he maintains, “Our motto is commitment. ‘Cuz last year we were building a new culture in what we’re trying to do.”
The team’s newfound focus and determination is needed in 2020 because, right from the outset, the Generals have been struggling with numbers. Even without coronavirus quarantining, depth has been a concern.
S-O started the season with 37 players on the team.
“It’s definitely starting to grow a little. We’re getting more and more each year. But we definitely can still use a lot more,” Jenness said.
The four seniors, however, are going a long way toward pointing the team in the right direction. Jenness has completed 20 of 42 passes for 238 yards and two touchdowns thus far, and he has rushed for 262 yards and three TDs on 46 carries. According to Kellenberger, he’s the strongest athlete on the team pound-for-pound.
Doeden is a very physical player whose motor never quits, and he’s always striving to improve. Platt is an extremely hard worker who, over the past year, has transformed his body. Kruger is a natural-born athlete, the kind of player who can overcome a mistake on the same play.
All four played as freshmen on teams lacking experience, but they were ready. They responded well and fine-tuned their skills in the ensuing years. They also have the mental game, Kellenberger testified.
“These guys, I know it’s super important to them (to win). But besides the record, they know how to focus on the day-to-day tasks,” said their admiring coach.
Kellenberger said the essence of his 2020 unit is about playing together, limiting mistakes and simply enjoying the chance to compete. “This was our year to make some noise out there,” he continued.
If the players can stay healthy -- and the coronavirus doesn’t intervene again -- their fortunes may yet hold.