PCM’s football team won its first state championship and went undefeated back in 2018.
But that team came into the season a bit under the radar and not ranked in the top five.
The 2020 Mustangs will start the season as one of the favorites in 2A and likely will have a target on their back starting in Week 1.
“I do think this team can be one of the best PCM has ever had but like I always tell our players, nobody cares how good we think we are,” PCM head football coach Greg Bonnett said. “They know that and I know that. It all comes down to stepping up on every rep and improving consistently.”
PCM went 8-3 last year, losing to the eventual 2A state champions in the quarterfinals. That state champion, OABCIG, is down to 1A in 2020. That should push PCM to the front of the pack along with Waukon and Solon, which drops down from 3A.
The Mustangs have won at least seven games in each season since going 4-6 in 2014.
This fall, PCM will only get seven chances in the regular season as the Iowa High School Athletic Association mandated a no more than seven-game regular season because of COVID-19.
But everyone makes the postseason in 2020.
Bonnett’s biggest challenge navigating through the pandemic is not as football coach but as the school’s athletic director.
“As a football coach, it just takes me longer to clean and do laundry everyday so I can deal with that by simply giving it a little more time,” Bonnett said. “As an AD, it’s a little different. Community stakeholders, parents and coaches want to know everything right now and get frustrated when it’s not communicated to them the first time accurately but, to use a football analogy, the goal post keeps moving. So what is right today might not be right tomorrow.”
Aside from trying to win another state title on the football field, he’s trying to make sure volleyball and cross country move along with as few hitches as possible.
“In the end, I think I will have written close to 50 pages of guidance for PCM activities and a big part of me is sitting there thinking ‘is this all really going to work anyway?’ Obviously I can’t know the answer to that, but I do feel good knowing I’m doing everything I can and I’m very proud of our school district for approaching this school year the way we are,” Bonnett said. “Around here, we keep saying ‘stronger together’ and I believe it. We all need a team.”
On the field, PCM has the largest roster since Bonnett took over as head coach. This year’s Mustangs are 76 large with another big senior class and several returning starters.
Bonnett was concerned in the spring when the pandemic kept athletes away from offseason workouts until July 1.
“When I would see them around town I consistently noticed one thing right away,” Bonnett said. “These guys found a way to workout. Their bodies changed for the better, boys became young men and when we hit the field in early July they were in shape.”
Junior Aidan Anderson ended last season with a career-high 298 yards in the loss to OABCIG. He goes into this season as the primary option for PCM’s offense.
Anderson rushed for 1,098 yards and nine touchdowns last year, averaging 8.3 yards per carry.
“Aidan Anderson is an outstanding player for us, and we feel really good about where he’s right now,” Bonnett said. “And we know he’s only going to get better.”
The Mustangs also return sophomore August Stock at quarterback. Stock made a handful of starts as a freshman and takes over the role full-time this season.
Junior Carson VandeLune will be Stock’s backup.
Stock passed for 476 yards and five TDs last year.
Senior Sage Burns threw for 619 yards and five TDs and rushed for 779 yards and 17 TDs last year. He moves to running back this fall as he and Anderson will get a large chunk of the carries.
Senior Colby Tool returns at fullback and the wide receivers are seniors Gatlin Boell, Jacob Van Winkle and Brayden Berger, who all played significant snaps last year.
Van Winkle had 21 catches for 447 yards and five TDs in 2019, while Boell had 20 catches for 292 yards and four scores.
The offensive line features five senior starters for the first time in the Bonnett era. And two sets of twins and a fifth who is also a twin.
The offensive line is headlined by senior Greyson Strum, who is one of the best two-way players in 2A and a returning first team all-state offensive linemen.
Strum has collegiate offers from a handful of schools, including Grand View and NCAA Division II Minnesota State at Mankato.
His twin brother Kaeden Strum will join him on the offensive line, along with junior Caleb Duinink and senior twins Cooper and Kinser Sloan.
“Our offense will have elements of RPO but like always, we are going to make it fit our personnel against who we are playing,” Bonnett said. “I feel like we are diverse enough to move the ball a number of ways and that all starts up front with our offensive line. If they play physical and intelligent, everything else is going to work.”
The defense is anchored by Strum on the defensive line, Tool and Boell at linebacker and seniors Justin Maggard and Landon Fenton in the secondary.
Tool had a team-high 73 tackles last year and finished with nine tackles for loss and two sacks. Boell contributed 53 tackles, eight tackles for loss and two picks.
Maggard tallied 24 tackles and a team-high four interceptions and Fenton chipped in 29 tackles and two picks.
Strum had 27.5 tackles on the defensive line. He’ll be joined by Cooper Sloan, who had 20.5 tackles last year, Berger and juniors Durant Van Dyke and Jacob Eslinger.
Bonnett said linebacker will present a ton of competition. Tool, Boell and senior Andrew Mitchell are the returning starters, but Burns and seniors Grant Landgrebe, Connor Bennett, Alex Buswell and Dylan Warrick all are battling for varsity snaps.
Mitchell had 33.5 tackles and one pick last year.
Maggard, Fenton, VandeLune and junior Kaden Hale will take most of the varsity snaps in the secondary.
The defense snatched 12 interceptions, made 10 sacks and recovered nine fumbles last season.
“What I like about this defense is the amount of experience they bring back,” Bonnett said. “Having so much time away from them this year could have been much worse but everybody really came in understanding what it is we do. The first time we had a formation recognition drill we picked up like we left off last year. The other thing about this defense is the hungriness of the players and the sense of urgency they already possess.”
PCM opens the season at home against 3A Newton at 7:30 p.m. on Aug. 28. The Mustangs are 2-0 against the Cardinals the past two seasons.
Pella Christian hosts PCM in the other non-district game in Week 2.
“When it comes to having a target on our back, I think we like to play that role,” Bonnett said. “We respect the game of football and want everybody to give everything they have. Our team, their team, it doesn’t matter. Making football plays is just a beautiful thing. In the end, we just want to make more plays than the other team does.”