COUNCIL BLUFFS — Iowa Western's home opener with Iowa Central on Saturday marks the return of Marco Naughton and Alex Reed to Titan Stadium.
Last September, the former Council Bluffs prep stars suffered season-ending injuries on back-to-back days on the field's new turf.
Reed broke his collarbone during the first half of the fourth game of his senior year at Lewis Central. Naughton tore up his knee the next afternoon in Iowa Western's fourth contest.
each missed out on a memorable season by his team.
Both were back on the field when Iowa Western opened 2013 in Texas. Saturday, they come home to play at Titan Stadium for the first time since that fateful weekend last fall.
Empty feeling for Reed
Reed was coming off a stellar junior year in which he was the best player in Council Bluffs.
Lewis Central, with its senior running back as its focal point, was primed for a run at history.
The Titans rolled the first three weeks, shutting out Council Bluffs Abraham Lincoln and St. Albert before drilling Indianola. Reed ran for more than 100 yards and two touchdowns in each game.
Lewis Central was in good shape in week four against Atlantic. Reed had a 60-yard TD run as the Titans built a 21-7 lead in the second quarter. A short time later, the season took a dramatic turn.
Reed shredded would-be tacklers on a tough 12-yard run to the right. It took multiple defenders to eventually bring him down. When he hit the turf, he didn't get up. His season was over.
Lewis Central overcame the loss of its star to advance to the state quarterfinals for the first time. Many believe the Titans had a legitimate shot at winning the championship had Reed not gotten hurt.
From the sidelines, Reed cheered his teammates on. Still, he felt some emptiness.
“It was awesome watching my teammates roll through the playoffs as they did,” he said. “There is just a part of you that didn't feel like you did much to help your team get there.”
Naughton a spectator, too
Naughton was ready to make an impact during his freshman season at Iowa Western.
A month removed from being named the prep athlete of the year in Council Bluffs, the all-state lineman and state wrestling champion from St. Albert had earned playing time on Iowa Western's defense line.
Through three games, he had four tackles. Iowa Western had posted easy wins away from home over APU Cole, New Mexico Military and Trinity Valley.
The first home game was in week four against College of DuPage. Naughton took a hit on his left knee during a running play. He tore his ACL and cartilage, and he sprained his MCL.
He was a spectator for the rest of the season. Iowa Western went on to win the NJCAA national championship. Naughton felt like he wasn't worthy of the celebration afterward.
“Everyone was being happy. They win the game and bring home these rings,” he said. “I look at this ring, and all I see is that I really didn't do anything to deserve it. I didn't play in that game.”
The injuries of last season have served as driving forces for Reed and Naughton.
“It's just motivating me every day to not take any plays for granted,” Reed said, “because you never know when it might be your last.”
The broken collarbone not only cost Reed most of his senior season, it also likely hurt him in the recruiting process. He came to Iowa Western in hopes of landing a scholarship as a wide receiver in the future. Against Trinity Valley last Saturday, he made three catches in his college debut.
“I am glad I got to come back, and I also think it might have been a blessing in disguise,” he said. “Never having played receiver before, I came in and I was raw. But I think by the time I leave here, they will have made me a pretty good receiver.”
Naughton exhausted a year of college eligibility last year, even though he played in only a little more than three games. He said the pressure is on now to have a big sophomore year.
“This is my last year. I didn't get the redshirt,” he said. “I have to come out and perform my best so I can go on to another school. That's my viewpoint, really. I have to play as well as I can because this is my last year here.”
Naughton's season got off to a good start last week. He showed no lingering effects from the knee injury as he bulled his way into the Trinity Valley backfield on a handful of occasions.
“I didn't really know how I was going to react to being on the field again,” he said. “I didn't know if I was going to be hesitant or if I was not going to make the same moves I usually do. Everything's come back, though.”
Now that they're fully healthy and playing important roles for the Reivers, both Reed and Naughton are hoping for another successful season — one they can fully be a part of.
Although Iowa Western returned only three starters from its championship team, Naughton believes there is enough talent on the Reiver roster to produce another title contender.
“There was a lot of hidden talent that I think is going to emerge this year,” he said.
Reed agreed. He said his new team has prepared itself to be among the best.
“I think the mentality of a championship team is something that can carry you a long ways, especially when you put in hard work,” he said.