Sean Donnelly has a lot of faith in Nick Doolittle.
So much so that the ninth-year Hiawatha football coach is taking the traditionally pass-first Hawks, putting them into the I-formation, and letting Doolittle run behind a young offensive line.
“We feel we’re really going to be able to use Nick’s agility and cutting ability,” Donnelly said. “We’re trying to find something that suits his best attributes that he has. I don’t want to say everything is on Nick’s back because it most definitely isn’t – there is always going to be 10 other guys on the field – but he is going to be a major part of what we do offensively and defensively.”
The Hawks started the season 3-1 last year before losing their final five games, once again missing out on the postseason. Their last playoff trip was in 1987.
Doolittle, who ran for about 400 yards despite missing a big chunk of the season with an injury, said he’s optimistic this year.
“I expect nothing short of playoffs,” Doolittle said. “I think we have a good chance with the people we have.”
His coach shares that excitement.
“We’re capable of adding another two wins to what we did a year ago,” Donnelly said. “I think we have the capability to become a five-win team again, make a push for the playoffs. A bounce goes right here or there, I think we can get to six wins. I think that’s a realistic goal for our guys to have.”
Doolittle said he’s making the most of his increased role.
“It makes me want to work harder now so it’s easier in the game,” Doolittle said. “Just trying to do good for my team, my school.”
Donnelly said he’s liked what he’s seen out of quarterback Alex Flores in camp, but wants to take pressure off an inexperienced receiving corp by making Doolittle a focal point of the offense.
He also said he thinks the team has improved from last year.
“We’re going to be better defensively because we have more speed that can get to the ball and make tackles than we’ve had in the past,” Donnelly said. “Offensively, it’s going to be a big change from wanting to throw the ball more like we did with Mike (Mercado). ... Our biggest strength is going to be able to run the ball on offense.”
One of the biggest problems Donnelly sees is the team’s depth – something that never has been the best but really cost the Hawks last year. When the injury bug bit, he said, it derailed the team’s promising start.
“We started off great but kind of fizzled as time went on, and a lot of it came from a lack of depth,” Donnelly said. “We haven’t fixed that lack-of-depth part, because we’re never going to have a lot of guys. ... Now we’re going to have to find a way to keep them off the training table. We were looking at Week 5, Week 6 and we had five starters out. And when you have that, it’s more like having 10 starters out because you’re looking at it being both sides of the ball.”
With more and more teams switching to spread offenses, going back to a more classic formation might seem like something that will be unfamiliar to teams. But Donnelly said in the eclectic Northeast Athletic Conference, that’s not really the case.
“You look at Luther North, it almost looks like a rugby game,” Donnelly said. “They’re so tight on the line of scrimmage it’s hard to tell who has the ball and who comes out of the scrum. Then you go play teams that run a wing-T, like Christian Life, then you get Hebron, who just likes to spread you out. ... There’s so much differences in our conference I don’t think there is that surprise factor that you would think.”