Just under 24 percent of the Class 3A first-team defense in the Iowa Newspaper Association’s All-State Football team today is made up of Creston/Orient-Macksburg Panthers.
Filling three of the coveted 13 spots on the top 3A defensive unit are linebacker Trevor Frain, defensive back Luke Neitzel and defensive end Keaton Hulett, named to the defensive utility spot.
All three were key figures in a two-year 15-5 run run that included a district championship last year, and back-to-back playoff appeareances.
“All three are deserving of first-team recogition,” Panther coach Brian Morrison said. “All three had outstanding seasons. They stand out on film. When teams prepared for Creston, they had to prepare to stop Luke. Obviously, Keaton had an outstanding season on both sides of the ball, and Trevor was really good on defense, as well as doing a lot for us offensively setting up all those runs with his blocks. These guys set the tempo for us as leaders on our team and being good football players.”
Neitzel and Hulett were named to the second-team defense a year ago, when current Iowa State player Collin Bevins represented Creston/O-M on the first unit. This is the first all-state selection for Frain, a junior.
Morrison called Neitzel one of the best football players at his positions in the state, regardless of class. The 6-2, 185-pound senior has the size and athletic ability to be a fine collegiate player, he said.
“Luke had an outstanding year both offensively and defensively,” Morrison said. “He rushed for over 1,200 yards and 29 touchdowns, and threw for nearly 800 yards. Then defensively, the amount of tackles he had (56) with seven interceptions. I don’t think you’ll find a more deserving kid.”
Morrison projects Neitzel as a Division I prospect at defensive back, nickel back or outside linebacker, “depending on how he fills out.” He has visited Iowa and Iowa State.
“It really comes down to what void they need filled and how they complete their (recruiting) classes,” Morrison said.
Neitzel was the all-district quarterback in District 1, but an injured thumb in the final week of practice during the regular season caused a shift to running back for much of the Lewis Central game and playoff game against state runner-up Sioux City Bishop Heelan.
Before that, Neitzel was 51-of-101 passing for 708 yards and eight touchdowns, with four interceptions.
Hulett, a 6-4, 240-pound senior, filled the roles of Bevins from a year ago as the anchor of both the offensive and defensive lines. The two-way starter at offensive tackle and rush defensive end had 67 total tackles, including 18 for loss and four quarterback sacks. Not charted are the number of “hurries” he enticed from quarterbacks unloading on the run as he bore down on them.
“When Keaton’s name was brought up at the all-district meeting, (Harlan) coach Curt Bladt said, “Enough said.” Hulett was a unanimous all-district selection.
“Keaton actually had better numbers than Collin as a senior in that position,” Morrison said. “The amount of tackles he had, and tackles for losses, is outstanding for that position. For us to be good on defense, that position is very important. He forces teams to double-team him, and he still causes disruption. That allows our inside backers to scrape over the top.”
Hulett, a state runner-up wrestler a year ago, has also been recruited at a high level, and has been in serious scholarship discussions with Division II Northwest Missouri State after multiple visits. Former Panther Dane Wardenburg is a graduate assistant with the Bearcats this season after a career there on the offensive line. Former Panther Nick Neitzel also played there.
“Keaton would be a good fit for their program,” Morrison said. “It’s looking positive. He’s an offensive guard recruit. His size kind of limits him, he’s not that 6-5 kid with arm length for offensive tackle or defensive end. But he’ll work hard wherever they put him.”
Like Neitzel, Frain earned starting duty as a freshman at the rugged position of inside linebacker. Now a 6-0, 185-pound junior, Frain packed a powerful punch with 107 total tackles (41 solo), with 16 for losses.
The two-way starter at fullback and linebacker also gained 257 yards rushing on 50 carries and three TDs. He was first-team all-district as a sophomore and unanimously this year, ranking second in the district in tackles.
Frain, likewise, is receiving some Division I interest. Like Hulett, he has lofty wrestling credentials as well, earning a state berth as a sophomore, when he lost a 1-0 decision to the state runner-up at 160 pounds.
“The numbers you see for Trevor are legitimate,” Morrison said. “Our stat guys give credit where it’s due. With over 100 tackles, he ranked second in the district, and that’s on a team with its defense not on the field a whole lot.”
The Iowa Football Coaches Association guidelines for tackle credit says on any given play, there can only be a solo tackle, or no more than two assisted tackles.
“There have been a lot of good linebackers come through here,” Morrison said, “but Trevor could be as good as any that Creston has seen when he’s done. He does things really well. He pays attention to detail, has a knack to get around the football, and is explosive when he gets there. His first-step read of his keys is as good as I’ve seen.”
Offensively, Frain’s penchant for collisions gives him the perfect mentality for the fullback position, Morrison said.
“How well we did running the football this year is a tribute to that position, as well as how well we played up front,” Morrison said. “He would be a good running back for us, but we’d lose what he does at that fullback position. He has a lot of respect among other coaches around our district.”
Josey Jewell of state-champion Decorah was named captain of Class 3A. Jewell led the Viking rushing attack with 1,314 yards on 166 carries, averaging 7.9 yards per attempt. He had 21 rushing touchdowns, with a long of 89. He also caught 11 passes for 91 yards. He was second in the district in total tackles with 100 (62 solo, 38 assists). He also had 12 total tackles for a loss, five sacks and two fumble recoveries.