BRITT — When longtime West Hancock football coach Bob Sanger and his staff were evaluating talent in the weeks leading up to the Eagles’ opener, there came a realization that they were going to have to play a lot of young kids early.

The Eagles had lost a ton to graduation from its quarterfinal team of last season, and the numbers on this year’s squad shifted to having to play sophomores in the starting lineup. What’s resulted has been better than expected for Sanger and Co. as the Eagles prepare for a second straight Class A quarterfinal game Friday at West Sioux.

“I can’t say enough about them,” Sanger said. “We have good seniors and we have good juniors, we just didn’t have enough of them. The sophomore class stepped in and, boy, I tell you they’ve grown up to be juniors real fast.

“I knew they were going to be a pretty good class, but you don’t often have those kids as sophomores be as mature and be as contributing as much as they are.”

Between the offense and defense, West Hancock rolls out eight sophomore starters. Whether it’s on the line or at the skill positions, the young kids have made an impact.

Starting in the backfield, sophomores Tate Hagen and Josef Smith have filled two big roles for West Hancock running the football — Hagen as the fullback and Smith taking those famous sweeps around the edge.

Hagen eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark for the season during last week’s playoff-opening victory over Bishop Garrigan. His monster game — 225 yards and three touchdowns on 20 carries — helped push the Eagles one win away from a trip to the UNI-Dome.

“It’s a tough role playing fullback and coming in as a sophomore,” Hagen said. “We’ve got some great coaches here and they really teach you how to do things and how to get better. It’s easy to come in a do stuff like that because we have a lot of guys trying to do the same thing. We all want to go deep in the postseason.”

Hagen has also pulled his weight on defense with 50½ total tackles, which is second on the team.

Smith will be the first to tell you his start to the season didn’t go exactly how he wanted it to. But he saw a need for change in his game and put in the work to do so.

In 10 games, Smith is the Eagles’ third leading rusher with 639 yards and seven touchdowns on 98 carries.

“I would say that I didn’t really know what to expect coming in because when you watch varsity from the sideline it’s a lot faster pace,” Smith said. “We played Algona in a scrimmage and I thought I did pretty bad in that and then I really started to get serious in practice. Every game I kept improving. Watching film and seeing what I can do better and slowly improving until where we’re at now.”

From Hagen and Smith, to guys like Tanner Hagen, Brody Cox, Chandler Redenius, Tristan Hunt and Ian Gobeli, the Eagles are set for the future as long as those guys can stay healthy and keep improving.

It’s a future they’re very excited about.

“We can only imagine what we’ll be able to do in the future,” Tate Hagen said. “It’s just a really awesome feeling to have so much success when you’re young and not really knowing that much about varsity football.”

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