Scroll through the Bettendorf football team's roster and nothing is too unusual until you reach the final player on the list.

No. 93 Griffin Liddle, 6-foot-3, 235 pounds, freshman, defensive line


Yes, one of Iowa's Class 4A traditional football powers has a 14-year-old on its varsity roster, and he's not on the scout team or filling water bottles on Friday nights. 

Liddle is a starting defensive tackle who has developed into a disruptive force for the fourth-ranked Bulldogs (10-1) in their run to Friday's state semifinal against top-ranked Iowa City West (11-0) at the UNI-Dome.

"I thought I was going to play a little bit, not this much," Liddle said. "I've just kind of inched my way in and tried to work on getting better."

Liddle, in fact, has been in the weight room with Bettendorf for the past two years. Coaches describe him as a tireless worker.

He has recorded 18 tackles (4 for loss and 2.5 sacks). In playoff wins over Pleasant Valley and North Scott, he has seven stops.

"If you would have told me we'd be playing a freshman at that position, I would have thought no way we could do that," Bettendorf coach Aaron Wiley admitted. "He's a different deal with his maturity.

"He worked out all offseason, and physically we thought he was ready to do it, and he's really turned into a very good football player. He's got a great future as he continues to mature."

In his previous 20 years with the program, Wiley said Bettendorf never has had a freshman on the varsity roster.

Wiley thought Tavian Banks, who went on to star at Iowa and play in the NFL, was brought up to the varsity as a receiver during his freshman year in the team's 1989 playoff run.

Liddle is one-of-a-kind for Bettendorf. He is lining up in the trenches, a position predicated on size, strength and physicality. He is butting heads with individuals three and four years older.

"It wasn't something we planned to do," Wiley said, "but we brought him up in our preseason camp and evaluated if he could handle it physically. He was able to, and we went with it. He's had a great year."

The makeup of Bettendorf's defensive front is truly unique.

Senior Desani Carter, the other tackle, didn't play football at all last season. When he played previously at Davenport Central, he was an offensive lineman and defensive end.

The ends, Jatten Kuhrt and Rocky Schoenfelder, were playing outside linebacker/safety and linebacker, respectively, last year. 

Even with nobody having defensive line experience at the varsity level coming into the season, they've thrived. 

Bettendorf is allowing only 10.2 points per game and a little more than 200 total yards per contest. 

"We didn't necessarily know what we were going to get up front, but all four have really improved every week and are getting better as they learn," Wiley said. "We're happy with them."

Carter approached Wiley after last season concluded about coming out for football. He transformed his body in the weight room during the offseason, losing 10 to 15 pounds and adding considerable muscle. 

The 6-foot-1 and 260-pound Carter has 34 tackles (7 for loss, 5 sacks). 

"It was just a matter of working hard," Carter said. "The coaches just kept getting on our butts."

Carter and Liddle formed a connection in the weight room. It has carried onto the field.

"When I was lifting with him initially, I didn't even know he was a freshman," Carter said. "I thought he was in my grade.

"He's a monster for a freshman. I've never seen anything like it."

Liddle's father, Josh, was a three-year letterwinner in Iowa's wrestling program from 2000-02.

After growing up in Camanche, Liddle moved to Bettendorf in middle school. He won an AAU state wrestling championship last February. 

Wrestling still is important to him, but football has become a passion.

"This has motivated me a lot," Liddle said. "I want to get faster next year, get stronger, quicker hands and quicker feet."

At about 240 pounds, Liddle admits it has been an adjustment.

Less than a year after playing middle school football, he was battling juniors and seniors from West Des Moines Valley in his debut.

"It is a lot more physical than middle school football," he said. "It is a whole different ballpark with that and the number of fans. It was nerve-wracking at first."

He's matured along the way and adapted to the pace and physicality. 

"We've got a good coach in (Kevin) Freking, who has helped a lot," Liddle said. "I've learned to move on after a bad play, not dwell on it."

The Bulldogs have an opportunity to make Liddle's freshman season even more memorable Friday if they can conquer undefeated Iowa City West. 

Bettendorf is eyeing its first trip to the championship game in six years. 

Asked what this experience has been like for a 14-year-old, Liddle paused and smiled.

"It is crazy," he said. "You can't explain it."


Sports Editor

Prep sports editor, with emphasis on covering the Mississippi Athletic Conference and Iowa area high schools. I've been in sports journalism for 17 years, the last five at the Quad-City Times.