Nearing the halfway mark of the 2012 campaign, the Rebels were still searching for an identity.
After several position adjustments, some defensive tinkering and a bit more seasoning, Gladbrook-Reinbeck found its way by going back to the basics.
Winning three of its last four games-including a first round playoff win-the Rebels return 17 starters with an eye on district supremacy, though G-R coach John Olson isn't setting any sort of ultimatum.
Seeking its fourth straight postseason berth after last year's 6-5 campaign, Gladbrook-Reinbeck hopes its experience and firm grasp on role and responsibilities will help carry over the continuity established late last season.
"The guys already know who they are, where they're going to line up and for the most part, what they're doing," said Gladbrook-Reinbeck John Olson, who enters his eighth season at the helm with a mark of 47-22. "So we can correct those little things that maybe we couldn't correct last year. We can already see it in practice so far."
The Rebels' main identity crisis surfaced early in the season as the coaches shifted from the program's standard 4-4 defense to account for all the moving pieces and early question marks.
"Last year we got out of that (4-4 defense) a couple times and we didn't want to, but we thought we needed to," said Olson, whose squad enters its second season in Class A District 4. "That went against what we like to do here philosophically. We got away from that and then went back to it and we ended up with a really good defense last year."
With seven of their top eight tacklers back and eight returning starters in the mix, the Rebels look to pick up where they left off-limiting opponents to an average of 19 points over the last five games, after allowing 28.8 through the first six.
"We want to build from there and go off our strengths instead of trying to cover up some of our weaknesses," said Olson, in reference to last year's resurgence after an early transition phase.
All-state third team defensive lineman Pete Meyers highlights the unit alongside fellow lineman Braden Trepp and Joey Linder with defensive ends Chase Clark and Zach Pierce manning the outside. Meyers paced the defense with 75 tackles along with two fumble recoveries, while Pierce added 55 tackles and six solo sacks. Last year's revolving door of linebackers is solidified by Colton Dinsdale, Dustin Dinsdale and Jack Peters.
Clark, a 2012 T-R All-Area running back, triggers an offense that wields nine players back from a year ago. The senior tailback rushed for 1,399 yards and 17 touchdowns and will help ease the pressure in replacing graduated quarterback Trevor Trunck.
Juniors Camden Kickbush and Brady Kuehl are vying for the starting spot under center, with sophomore Jake Schuman also in the wings. Whoever takes the reins will have dependable targets in returning wideouts Colton Dinsdale (37 rec., 588 yds, 5 TD), Phil Zimmerman and Wyatt Swanson, who also will handle kicking duties after earning first team all-state honors last season. Dustin Dinsdale (17 rec., 228 yds, 2 TD) adds another weapon as he shifts to the outside after playing fullback, where Jake Peters will assume starting duties. Sophomore Eric Stoakes provides another threat in the backfield as depth should be a strength on both sides of the ball.
"We feel confident about what we have," said Olson, while also pointing out that what's on paper doesn't necessarily translate on the field. "It doesn't matter confidence wise, you still have to make sure you're playing well."
Last year's four-turnover outing in a 13-0 setback to rival Grundy Center highlights that point and is one game still fresh on G-R's mind. With a better knowledge of their opponents and themselves, the Rebels believe a district title is within reach.
While both 2012 district champ North Tama and runner-up Belle Plaine endure major turnover after graduation, Olson still sees each as a viable adversary, while the bottom of the league looks to improve.
"Teams that were on the bottom last year will be a little better," said Olson. "Maybe North Tama won't be winning every game by 40, but they're still pretty good. They have a good tradition."
G-R opens its schedule against Olson's alma mater-Denver-on the road Aug. 23 and kicks off district play against Iowa Valley at "The Pit" in Gladbrook Sept. 13.