Register's 50 greatest Iowa high school football teams of all-time
Editor's note: This story was originally published in August 2018.
Let's talk football. And we're kicking off this conversation with a compelling proposition sure to stir things up:
"What Iowa high school football team is the greatest in state history?"
Try answering that while sipping your coffee at the local store or Starbucks.
In the Register's "best of the preps" tradition, we're breaking down our selections by providing our picks for the top 50 teams since Iowans starting playing in 1890 or so.
Now we're turning to football.
But, you ask, how can we possibly compare modern-day teams with historic squads from nearly a century ago? Today's highly trained athletes vs. guys who didn't even have helmets or face masks?
But we're not engaging in a head-to-helmet comparison here. We're honoring Iowa's great high school football legacy by recognizing the teams that we think were the most dominant and are the most deserving. There are teams ranging from the 1920s to just last season.
- Register's 25 greatest Iowa high school football rivalries
- Introducing the Des Moines Register’s 50 greatest Iowa high school football players
We considered hundreds of teams that didn't make the top 50. We asked for your input on Twitter. (If you missed that, tough. One reply came from a player from a 1963 team.)
We'll be rolling out "50 best" stories honoring high school sports histories in Iowa each week this fall.
So let's get started:
2017: W.D.M. Dowling Catholic
Why they're deserving: The Maroons won their fifth consecutive Class 4A state championship in 2017. Blake Clark threw 27 touchdown passes with just one interception, while Jayson Murray ran for nearly 2,000 yards and 29 scores.
2017: Cedar Rapids Xavier
Why they're deserving: Went 13-0, ending Pella's 3A title run at three consecutive crowns. Quinn Schulte passed for 14 touchdowns and ran for 20 more. Xavier held five foes to seven or fewer points.
2015: W.D.M. Dowling Catholic
Why they're deserving: The Maroons went 13-0 and beat previously undefeated Cedar Rapids Kennedy 41-10 in the Class 4A state championship. Dowling scored 40 or more points seven times during the season.
2014: W.D.M. Dowling Catholic
Why they're deserving: Ryan Boyle guided the Maroons to the 4A state championship with more than 3,000 yards of offense. Seven Dowling players were named to the Sunday Register's all-state football team. Dowling went 13-1, beating Cedar Rapids Washington 49-14 in the championship.
Why they're deserving: The school won its first of three consecutive 3A state championships, going 14-0. Noah Clayberg had nearly 3,000 yards of offense and the defense held eight foes to six or fewer points.
2014: Iowa City Regina
Why they're deserving: The school went 13-1, winning 13 games after dropping a one-point loss to Solon in a season opener. Drew Cook passed for 2,504 yards and 31 touchdowns for the third of four consecutive 1A state championships.
2013: W.D.M. Dowling Catholic
Why they're deserving: Dowling's defense was key to a 14-0 season and the school's first of five consecutive 4A state titles. The Maroons held eight opponents to 10 or fewer points.
2013: Iowa City Regina
Why they're deserving: Regina finished 14-0, beating Fort Dodge St. Edmond 35-0 in the Class 1A state championship. Only three foes scored more than 14 points against the Regals' defense.
Why they're deserving: Before Joel Lanning earned fame at Iowa State, he led the Hawks to a 14-0 season and the Class 4A state championship. Lanning threw for 2,312 yards and both he and Ian Begg ran for more than 1,000.
Why they're deserving: Future Hawkeye All-American Josey Jewell led his team to a 14-0 record and a 3A state championship. Decorah beat Sioux City Heelan 38-17 in the title game.
2011: W.D.M. Valley
Why they're deserving: Two-time Elite all-state lineman Sam Raridon led his squad to a 14-0 record, including a 17-14 victory over Bettendorf in the Class 4A state championship.
2010: W.D.M. Dowling Catholic
Why they're deserving: Dowling placed seven athletes on the Sunday Register all-state team. The Maroons went 14-0 under coach Tom Wilson, who won the first of his six state championships.
Why they're deserving: James Morris led Solon to its third consecutive undefeated season and a 2A state championship. Morris would go on to play at Iowa and in the NFL. Solon went 41-0 in a three-year span.
2008: Sioux City Heelan
Why they're deserving: Brandon Wegher was a nearly unstoppable running back, rushing for a state record 3,238 yards and scoring 54 touchdowns. Heelan went 14-0 and topped previously undefeated Decorah 35-10 in the 3A state final.
Why they're deserving: Linebacker Pat Angerer was a fierce and relentless tackler who would later play in the NFL. The Bulldogs went 13-0 and beat Valley 34-22 in the state championship.
2003: Cedar Rapids Washington
Why they're deserving: A talent-laden state runner up sent players Adrian Arrington and Rob Bruggeman on to NFL careers. Washington went 12-1 and lost to Valley in the state championship 17-7.
2003: W.D.M. Valley
Why they're deserving: The Tigers placed six athletes on the Sunday Register's all-state team, including four Elite selections. Jason Scales rushed for more than 2,000 yards. Coach Gary Swenson has won five state titles at Valley, along with another crown at Spencer.
Why they're deserving: The Cyclones started a run of three consecutive Class 3A state titles with a 27-0 victory over Mount Vernon. In those three seasons, the team went 39-0. Coach Curt Bladt has won a state-best 11 championships. Joel Osborn was the Sunday Register's Elite quarterback.
2000: W.D.M. Dowling Catholic
Why they're deserving: Quarterback Matt Macri guided a very talented group of Maroons that accomplished what no previous Dowling team could — bring home a state championship. Dowling was the state runner-up in its first seven title game appearances. Matt Dillon would lead Dowling to back-to-back championships and a 26-game winning streak in 2000-01.
1999: Iowa City West
Why they're deserving: The Trojans completed a back-to-back state championship run as well as compiling a 26-game winning streak. Quarterback Kevin Long was named to the Sunday Register all-state first team. So was future NFL kicker Nate Kaeding.
Why they're deserving: Coach Jerry Pezzetti would lead the Hawks to the school's first state football championship. Quarterback Ryan Justice ran the team, which improved with every game. Ankeny beat City High 17-14 in the state final.
1996: Iowa City High
Why they're deserving: Receiver Kahlil Hill and running back Jesse Holland gave the Little Hawks a speedy offensive attack. Seven players were named to the Sunday Register's 4A all-state team in a 13-0 season.
1995: West Lyon
Why they're deserving: Kyle Vanden Bosch and LeVar Woods went on to play in the NFL. They helped anchor a defense that carried the team to a 12-1 record and a state runner-up finish in Class 2A.
1995: Iowa City West
Why they're deserving: West finished 13-0 and topped Dowling 42-0 in the 4A state final. An offensive powerhouse that featured all-staters Ryan Hansen and Carlos Honore in the backfield.
1993: Iowa City High
Why they're deserving: Tim Dwight was the biggest star, but he was joined by seven other Little Hawks on the 4A all-state team. City High went 13-0 and beat Sioux City Heelan 42-14 in the state championship. City would win the 1994 and 1996 titles, too.
Why they're deserving: Four NFL players were produced by coach Ed Thomas. Two of them — Jared DeVries and Brad Meester — were members of the 1993 state champions. The team went 13-0 and won the 1A state championship.
Why they're deserving: Tavian Banks compiled one of the greatest seasons ever for an Iowa running back, rushing for 2,394 yards and 42 touchdowns. He would go on to play at Iowa and in the NFL. It was Bettendorf's second consecutive title.
1990: Linn-Mar (Marion)
Why they're deserving: Linn-Mar won its second consecutive state title and the third under coach Greg Purnell. Quarterback Ryan Driscoll was a top recruit and went on to play at Iowa. Linn-Mar went 13-0 after a 12-1 campaign the previous year.
Why they're deserving: The Bulldogs won a second consecutive state championship in 4A and earned four spots on the Sunday Register's 4A all-state first team. Greg Brown starred at running back.
1985: Linn-Mar (Marion)
Why they're deserving: The Lions went 12-0 and placed five athletes on the Des Moines Sunday Register's all-state team. Linn-Mar beat Waterloo West 11-1 in the Class 4A state championship.
1983: Davenport Central
Why they're deserving: The team went 12-0 and won the Class 4A state championship. Running back Gary Couch was one of five Des Moines Sunday Register all-state selections.
Why they're deserving: The Cardinals went 12-0 and placed five athletes on the Sunday Register all-state team. Treye Jackson, a record-setting sprinter during his track career, was the backfield star.
1978: Mason City
Why they're deserving: Coach Barry Alvarez would jump-start his coaching career by leading the Mohawks to an 11-1 season and the 4A state title. He'd later end up coaching Wisconsin, leading that program to three Rose Bowl victories.
1976: Davenport Central
Why they're deserving: Central finished 12-0 on the season, beating Dowling 15-12 in the 4A state championship. Future NFL players Roger Craig and Jamie Williams were among the athletes in Central's lineup.
1974: Davenport West
Why they're deserving: West went 11-0 and placed three athletes on the Des Moines Sunday Register's all-state team. Quarterback Terry Rubley, the Register's top all-state quarterback, went on to play at Iowa State.
1973: Davenport Central
Why they're deserving: The 4A state champions featured future Nebraska player Curtis Craig, who ran for more than 1,700 yards as a senior. Central was a football factory of the time. Jim Fox was named the Register's coach of the year.
1972: Cedar Rapids Jefferson
Why they're deserving: The team won Iowa's first Class 4A state championship, beating Dowling 6-0 in the title game. Four athletes earned all-state honors and Jack Fisk was named the coach of the year. Jefferson went 11-0.
1971: Sioux City Heelan
Why they're deserving: Heelan was led by Bernard Cooper, the Register's coach of the year. One of the era's top backfields featured two 1,000-plus yard rushers, Eugene Mollet and Dan Sanem. Both were named to the all-state team.
1969: Des Moines Dowling
Why they're deserving: The Maroons went 9-0 under Jim Williams, who would establish a tradition that continues today. Dowling was then an all-boys' school located in Des Moines. Williams was named the Register's coach of the year.
1968: Waterloo East
Why they're deserving: A powerhouse of the era, East would win 55 of 56 football games during a period from 1965 to 1971. The only non-victory was a tie. The Trojans averaged 44.4 points a game during a 9-0 season. Jerry Moses, considered by some the top running back in the country, was one of four all-staters.
1965: Cedar Rapids Jefferson
Why they're deserving: Future Hawkeye Larry Lawrence, an all-state quarterback, was one of four athletes who went on to play at Iowa. The school won 37 games and had two ties during a span from 1963 to 1967.
1963: Mount Pleasant
Why they're deserving: The team went 9-0, a mark that included a victory over Cedar Rapids Jefferson, one of the state's biggest schools and the Mississippi Valley Conference champion. Eleven players went on to play in college, according to Bill Calloway, a junior on the team who went on to coach high school football.
1954: Des Moines Roosevelt
Why they're deserving: Quarterback Randy Duncan's team lost only twice during his three seasons, including the undefeated 1954 fall. Roosevelt went 9-0 and was named the mythical state champion. Duncan would go on to fame at Iowa. Archie Johnson was named the Register's coach of the year.
Why they're deserving: Ken Wells had a big role in establishing a great football tradition. Wells was named the Register's high school football coach of the year. Three Ames players earned all-state recognition.
Why they're deserving: Three Bobcats earned first-team all-state honors and the school finished 9-0. Led by Coach of the Year Leonard Cole, who would have the school's stadium named after him. Marshalltown would also go undefeated in 1944 and 1947.
1941: Waterloo East
Why they're deserving: The team placed four athletes on the Des Moines Sunday Register's all-state team when it was a one-class unit. Led by Leonard Raffensperger, who was named the Register's inaugural football coach of the year. Raffensperger would later become the head coach at Iowa.
Why they're deserving: Starring in the backfield was one of the state's greatest players, George "Sonny" Franck. He went on to All-American honors at Minnesota and was ranked third in the Heisman Trophy voting in 1940 and a first-round NFL draft pick. Davenport was the state's biggest high school during this time and a dominant athletic power.
1923: Cedar Rapids
Why they're deserving: One of the nation's best teams finished 10-1, falling to Toledo, Ohio, Scott High in a game billed as the national high school championship. Seven of 11 members of the Des Moines Sunday Register’s all-state first team were from this school, which would later be known as Washington High. That was the most of any school in a single season of the Register’s 11-man first team from 1914 to 1973; the Register expanded to a 22-player first team in 1974. The team outscored foes 492-70, beating out-of-state squads from Illinois, South Dakota, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Why they're deserving: A team led by Elmer Layden, who would go on to become one of Notre Dame’s legendary “Four Horsemen.” Layden earned first team all-state honors, along with lineman Paul Krususki.
1920 Des Moines East
Why they're deserving: East has one of the most enduring football histories of any school, dating back to 1894. This team went 8-0, outscored foes 219-8. Mythical state champions.