Kopriva and Wurth named T-R’s 2021 Co-Player and Co-Coach of the Year

North Tama starting quarterback and T-R 2021 Co-Player of the Year Gabe Kopriva watches his pass rocket to the pocket past Nashua-Plainfield’s defense during the Redhawks Sept. 17 home game against the Huskies on Dennis Field. Photo by Soren M. Peterson

North Tama was discounted early and often ahead of the 2021 football season. After going 2-6 in the first season of head coach Taylor Wurth’s tenure, the Redhawks were picked to finish fifth in Class A District 3 and not be much of a factor come playoff time.

Indeed, a turnaround of the team’s fortunes would rely on better play from its offense and particularly from quarterback Gabe Kopriva, who had just 1,284 passing yards and six touchdowns in 2021 with 10 interceptions and 47.3 percent completion percentage.

Part of this was due to a complete change in play calling and offensive scheme midway through the year, Kopriva said.

What no one outside of the Redhawks expected was for Kopriva to be the leader in the state in passing completions at 229, second in attempts at 356, fourth in passing yards at 3,006, fifth in total offense at 3,815 yards and in the top 30 in passing touchdowns with 24.

This dramatic uptick in production — and a pass-based offense run exclusively out of shotgun and pistol sets — catapulted the Redhawks to a 6-2 regular season record, a third-place finish in their district and a run to the final eight in the Class A playoffs.

North Tama head coach and T-R 2021 Co-coach of the Year Taylor Wurth confers with his coaching staff through his headset from the sidelines of Dennis Field during the Redhawks’ 2021 Homecoming game against Nashua-Plainfield back on Sept. 17. The Redhawks beat the Huskies 50-22 notching their fourth win of the season. Photo by Ruby F. Bodeker

It also earned Kopriva Co-Player of the Year honors from the Times-Republican.

Kopriva said the honor is an indication of just how much the Redhawks improved in 2021.

“Nobody likes losing, and that’s what we did last year,” Kopriva said. “This year it was good just learning defenses and being more of a quarterback instead of running all the time, because I would try to force a lot of things or I’d run last year. Being able to sit in that pocket and throw a lot of touchdowns, more than in the past, makes it easier to win and easier to put the stats up.”

Kopriva has come a long way as a high school quarterback in his three seasons playing the position for the Redhawks. Initially starting off mainly in the defensive backfield, his first real snaps under center came during his sophomore campaign. The offense was different then, heavily based on the run game and not reliant on Kopriva and Skylar Staker to move the ball through the air. The team attempted 116 total passes and 353 rushes that season, and Kopriva went 20-of-34 for 341 yards and five scores. He took over the job as a junior but was prone to turnovers and experienced growing pains as the Redhawks went through two different offenses over the course of the season.

This year, he said, it has felt like a return to how North Tama’s large group of seniors played as kids — a return to backyard football of sorts.

The T-R’s 2021 Co-Player of the Year Gabe Kopriva loosens up his arm ahead of the Redhawks’ first game of the season on Friday, Aug. 27 in Belle Plaine. Against the Plainsmen, Kopriva jump started his stellar season by carrying seven different times for a total of 83 yards while passing for 166 yards. Photo by Ruby F. Bodeker

“We started in Wing T and we started winning games when we switched to the shotgun and spread,” Kopriva said. “It was weird. I liked it a lot though.

“It’s a lot more fun — everybody has more fun and it makes the game more backyard football-ish. With all those guys, throwing to them and even going out during the summer and throwing routes, that helped us a lot having that connection.”

The senior class of 11 players has been together for a long time, and with their camaraderie, making the transition to a more wide-open attack was easier to do — and Kopriva said he felt Wurth’s trust in him throughout the year to make mistakes and bounce back with big plays.

After a playoff win, Wurth said his trust in Kopriva and his teammates to execute the offense in high-pressure situations was absolute.

As confidence built throughout the year, so did the Redhawks’ expectations. Six straight wins and strong showings from North Tama meant the final two games of the regular season, against Wapsie Valley and Grundy Center, would decide the district. North Tama lost both and didn’t score, with multiple turnovers in each game. The offense was on the ropes.

The T-R’s 2021 Co-Coach of the Year Taylor Wurth (far right) gives his team one final pep talk ahead of the Redhawks’ season opener in Belle Plaine on Friday, Aug. 27. Wurth invoked the mythical Coach Taylor of “Friday Night Lights” fame by enumerating the mantra “clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.” The Redhawks went on to win 31-14 against the Plainsmen. Photo by Ruby F. Bodeker

Kopriva threw two touchdowns and ran for another against Wapello in the first round of the playoffs, and he connected on the biggest play of the night in a round-of-16 victory over Lynnville-Sully: a run-pass option on fourth and three from the North Tama 19 with less than two minutes to play, in which he found Michael Bell for 80 yards to seal the win.

Kopriva said at the time it was a show of how together the Redhawks were in their decision-making.

“It was definitely risky, but sometimes it pays off,” Kopriva said.

The playoff run ended with a 28-7 loss to Grundy with a trip to the UNI-Dome on the line, but it was proof of what the team was capable of. Having looked back on things, Kopriva was nothing but happy with how his senior year went on the offensive side of the ball.

Defensively, he recorded 29 total tackles at safety and picked off five passes to help North Tama’s cause.

The T-R’s 2021 Co-Player of the Year North Tama starting quarterback Gabe Kopriva looks out on Traer’s Dennis Field ahead of kickoff back on Sept. 17. The Redhawks went on to win, 50-22, their Homecoming match-up that night against Nashua-Plainfield with Kopriva rushing for 112 yards, passing for 326 yards, and leading the team to their fourth win of the season. Photo by Ruby F. Bodeker

Making the run with some of his friends — the same group he’s been with forever, and the same teammates he’s with right now on the boys’ basketball team — made it all the more special for the senior.

“Ranked fifth in our district, not even supposed to make the playoffs, and we made it to the third round,” Kopriva said. “Sucks we lost right short of the Dome, but somebody’s gotta lose, I guess.”

2021 Times-Republican All-Area Football Team

Co-Players of the Year — Gabe Kopriva, sr., North Tama; Preston Pope, sr., West Marshall

Co-Coaches of the Year — Taylor Wurth, North Tama; Cody Hackett, West Marshall

North Tama head coach and T-R 2021 Co-coach of the Year Taylor Wurth runs onto Dennis Field ahead of the Redhawks’ 2021 Homecoming game against Nashua-Plainfield back on Sept. 17. The Redhawks beat the Huskies 50-22 notching their fourth win of the season. Photo by Soren M. Peterson


Quarterback — Isaac Clark, so., Gladbrook-Reinbeck; Peyton Hart, jr., West Marshall; Dalen Huston, so., Marshalltown.

Running Back — Garrett Kerber, sr., East Marshall; Boden Koehler, sr., South Tama; Nick Rebik, jr., Marshalltown.

Wide Receiver — Caleb Egesdal, jr., Gladbrook-Reinbeck; Ethan Gienger, sr., Gladbrook-Reinbeck; Devin McKinley, sr., North Tama; Michael Schrier, jr., North Tama.

Tight End — Adam Greiner, sr., North Tama; Gannon Williams, sr., Marshalltown.

Offensive Line — Zach Chaplin, jr., West Marshall; Clay Goecke, jr., Marshalltown; Thomas Hulme, sr., North Tama; Nick Lucas, jr., Marshalltown; Sam Schaper, jr., West Marshall.

Defensive Line — Dominick Garth, sr., Marshalltown; Cody Gebel, sr., Gladbrook-Reinbeck; Ryan Hosek, so., North Tama; Austin Pfantz, jr., West Marshall; Tristen Sanford-Anders, sr., Gladbrook-Reinbeck.

Linebacker — Tim Benson, sr., East Marshall; Drake Blakesley, sr., Gladbrook-Reinbeck; Jacob Collison, sr., South Tama; Logan Rausch, sr., North Tama; Tom Smith, sr., Gladbrook-Reinbeck; Caden Vellinga, jr., West Marshall; Aiden Zook, sr., North Tama.

Defensive Back — Nick Feldpausch, sr., BCLUW; Kooper Gill, sr., GMG; Bo Lee, jr., East Marshall; Ziek Slocum, sr., Marshalltown.

Kicker — Richard Toe, sr., Marshalltown.

Punter — Rudy Papakee, jr., South Tama.

Kick/Punt Returner — Larnell Bear, sr., Meskwaki; Kyler Smith, sr., South Tama.

Past T-R All-Area Players of the Year

2020 — Brayden Evertsen, sr., West Marshall; Luke Pinnick, sr., West Marshall; Carson Williams, sr., Marshalltown

2019 — Keagan Giesking, jr., Gladbrook-Reinbeck; Skyler Staker, sr., North Tama

2018 — Cameron Bannister, QB, West Marshall

2017 — Hunter Lott, QB, Gladbrook-Reinbeck

2016 — Bryce Flater, RB/LB, Grundy Center

2015 — Jerry Lowe, RB, South Tama

2014 — Eric Stoakes, RB, Gladbrook-Reinbeck

2013 — Duncan Ferch, RB, West Marshall

2012 — Blake Gimbel, QB, Marshalltown

2011 — Blake Gimbel, QB, Marshalltown; Dalton Ferch, RB, West Marshall

2010 — Dalton Ferch, RB, West Marshall

2009 — Jarred Carlson, WR, Marshalltown

2008 — Drake Ferch, RB, West Marshall

2007 — Tyler Peschong, QB, Marshalltown

2006 — Tyler Rabey, RB, West Marshall

2005 — Alex Mayorov, RB, GMG

2004 — Andrew Peschong, QB, Marshalltown