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After surprising everyone last season, Class 1A, DII’s 18th-ranked Iredell Dragons enter 2023 quest breathing fire, ready to slay foes

Rest assured, the Class 1A, Division II’s 18th-ranked Iredell Dragons will not be taking anyone by surprise this season.

Despite being picked to finish last in District 12-1A, Division II, the young and surprising Iredell Dragons surged in the second half of the 2022 season to capture a berth to the postseason behind district champion and state quarterfinalist Bluff Dale.

Now with six returning lettermen including four offensive and five defensive starters, Iredell has been picked as the pre-season favorite to win the district title ahead of 19th-ranked Bluff Dale, and perennial-postseason contenders Walnut Springs and Cranfills Gap.

“I’ll be honest, it feels good to see a little bit of recognition,” Iredell’s veteran head coach Luis Guereca said. “Trying to get back to where we once were is a process. But our kids are willing to work hard to get back to being a championship program.

“With a good number of starters returning, expectations will be higher for our season and going into district play. So going into this season, it’ll be important to make sure we are more consistent from game to game. We are still fairly young, so gaining more experience as the year goes on will be important.”

Young indeed. Despite the success the Dragons enjoyed last season, Iredell will only have one senior, along with four juniors, six sophomores and six freshmen on the roster. But the Dragons will be fueled by a strong sophomore class as running backs Cole Heutzenroeder and Jordan Gutierrez were named the district’s co-Newcomers of the Year as freshmen last season.

“We’re still a fairly young team,” Guereca said. “But we have good depth and we’re hungry for success.”

Gutierrez led the Dragons with 1,441 yards rushing with 25 touchdowns, while Heutzenroeder kept pace with 1,223 yards rushing and 18 scores. Sophomore Caleb Garland will be Iredell’s top returning receiver after catching five passes for 109 yards and two touchdowns last season.

By knocking off pre-season favorite Cranfills Gap, 86-50, in the 2022 regular season finale, the Dragons advanced to the playoffs for the first time since 2018.

After winning three consecutive district titles and making back-to-back trips to the Class 1A, Division II, Region IV finals in 2017 and 2018, the Dragons found themselves in rebuild mode after suffering through three straight losing seasons.

Entering his 12th season as the Dragon head coach, Guereca led Iredell to six straight winning seasons culminating in three consecutive district titles from 2016-2018. Although the Dragons expected to be in the hunt at the state level again in 2019, injuries took their toll early forcing the team to shutdown before district. Likewise, the 2020 season ended up feeling like a bit of déjà vu – and not in a good way.

But without a doubt, the Iredell Dragons are back.

“I’m really proud of our team, from top to bottom,” Guereca said. “Every single player improved from game-to-game throughout last year. And I’m excited to see what they can do this season.”


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