Lutheran West took a step forward each of the last three seasons, going 2-8 in 2011, 5-5 in 2012 and 6-4 a year ago.
Next step: playoffs.
At least that’s the expectation from a team that returns 13 starters and gains an experienced coach in Frank Petroff to lead them. Petroff is no stranger to quick turnarounds. He took over Holy Name in 2005 following a 4-6 season and guided them to an 8-2 mark and a trip to the playoffs.
“Our theme this year has been raise the bar,” Petroff said. “We are not happy with five or six wins. We believe with our seniors this year we have to take the next step. We’ll have to have some of our young players grow up fast and mature as football players. It’s one thing to have a lot of seniors, but we have a lot of young kids at certain positions, too.”
Petroff will also install a spread offense, which is a change from Lutheran West’s traditional power/counter style. Fortunately for him, he has two seniors to lead the way.
At quarterback is Nick Knudsen, who Petroff said can make plays through the air and on the ground and has adjusted well to the new system.
“I’m learning well and I like the way it looks,” Knudsen said. “The whole team is really starting to pick it up and I think it’s going to work well with the team that we have. Learning about reading the defenses is a lot more important this year. Picking up coverages and finding different linebackers. It’s a different way to read the defense in this offense.”
But that doesn’t mean Lutheran West will abandon the run, especially when it returns running back Adam Felten. The senior’s season was cut short in Week 6 against Oberlin when a stress fracture in his leg kept him out of the final four games, but he managed to pile up 742 yards and eight touchdowns on 121 carries when healthy.
“I worked pretty hard in the offseason to get it back into shape,” Felten said. “It wasn’t too terribly bad, I just needed a little bit of rest. I’ve been waiting to get back on the field for about eight months now. I’m ready.”
When Lutheran West needs a speedy change of pace it will turn to sophomore Chris Jones. Felten said Jones is tough to take down and will act as a perfect complement to his power running. Jones also is versatile and will line up at wide receiver when needed.
On defense, Petroff is keeping the same system in place with multiple fronts and coverages. Senior linebacker Andrew O’Hara — who will also line up at tight end on offense — will led the defense after piling up 140 tackles last season. He was also first-team All-Ohio in Division V as a punter.
Petroff said four kids are fighting for the outside linebacker spots with sophomore Josh Cales likely to see a lot of time there.
“He’s matured and grown up over the summer,” Petroff said. “He did really well in the first scrimmage and we’re expecting some really great things from him.”
Felten said he believes Lutheran West has the talent to continue its upward momentum and take the next step in contending for a Patriot Athletic Conference Stripes Division crown.
“I think we need to come out to games a lot stronger this year,” Knudsen said. “The past couple of years we’ve come out a little flat each game, so I think we just need to pick it up and come out physical from the start and we’ll be all right.”
Contact Chris Sweeney at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lutheran West Longhorns
CONFERENCE: Patriot Athletic — Stripes Division
2013 RECORD: 6-4 (4-3)
COACH: Frank Petroff, first year
RETURNING LETTERMEN: 13
RETURNING STARTERS: 13 (6 offense/7 defense)
PLAYOFF APPEARANCES: 2
LAST TIME IN PLAYOFFS: 2005
NUMBERS GAME: 121.7 — Number of rushing yards senior running back Adam Felten averaged over the first six games in 2013. He missed the last four due to injury.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Nick Knudsen — the senior quarterback will play a critical role as the Longhorns switch to a more spread-oriented attack under Petroff.
Aug. 29 at Firelands
Sept. 5 Hawken
Sept. 12 Independence
Sept. 19 Black River*
Sept. 26 at Buckeye*
Oct. 3 Oberlin*
Oct. 10 at Brooklyn*
Oct. 17 at Columbia*
Oct. 24 Clearview*
Oct. 31 at Fairview*
*Patriot Athletic Conference game
All games at 7 p.m.