Every year high school football programs see talented players go while welcoming a new crop able-bodied athletes into the mix.
Lourdes Academy is no different.
But while the team-wide talent-level remains high, the Knights also lost a strong crew of leaders from the team last year. And replacing those type of figures isn’t always so easy.
“We lost a boatload. We lost a lot of great leaders,” head coach Shane Obrigewich said. “We have some guys who have to step up and have got to lead. We’re getting there, not 100 percent, yet, but we are seeing progress.”
The loss of leadership wasn’t lost on this year’s group of 11 seniors, either.
Steps have been taken to fill those voids and it’s been a pretty smooth transition — partly because of the path left by those before them.
“They taught us so much and we learned, so we’ve become the same type of player that they were,” senior Sam Seibold said. “We’re a young team so when things go down, we have to have the leaders out there picking us up. And we got a good senior group so I think we can do that.
“We’ve really come together as a family this year, bonding on and off the field.”
The Knights may have been hit hard by graduation but one area of the squad appears to be in solid shape heading into the season.
Senior linemen Adam Krause, John Fehring and Jacob Ruhl all played on varsity last year and return to set the tone for the offense.
“They are my favorite part of the team,” said senior running back Tony O’Krueg-Wright. “They are the most important part of the team, I cannot establish that enough and they definitely hold the team together. They are looking good.”
Having experience on the offensive line is always a key factor, but especially with the Knights’ up-tempo offensive plan.
Not just recognizing what defenses are doing in trying to stop the offense but being able to communicate it with the rest of their teammates.
“The first thing is our communication,” Krause said. “We have to know who’s blocking who. Especially with our offense, we’re going to see a couple different fronts and different linebacker sets.”
Then it’s just a matter of keeping pace with the rest of the offense.
“It all comes back to conditioning,” Krause said. “Staying in shape so we’re fresh the whole game.”
Obrigewich believes the line will be a strength of the squad this season.
“Of our experience, that’s where we have the most experience,” Obrigewich said of the offensive line. “If I had my choice between a young line and a young backfield, I would take the young backfield any day and the experienced line.”
Charlie Noone has played quarterback at times for the Knights in each of the last two seasons, but this year, the position is all his.
Noone displayed both his running skills and an accurate passing arm during the team’s recent scrimmage and that has Obrigewich excited about what will happen once the real games start.
“Charlie had good a scrimmage. He did some nice things,” the coach said. “I was very, very happy with Charlie.”
O’Krueg-Wright and Zach Weiher — also the back-up quarterback — will join Noone as the top ball carries in the Knights, offense while Seibold leads the receiving corps heading into the opener.
Lourdes will once again aim to play at a fast tempo when it has the ball and hopefully replicate the type of offense it showed at the end of the season last year when the Knights averaged nearly 42 points per game over the last five regular season contests.
“It’s going to be exciting,” Seibold said of the offense. “A lot of big plays. We’re going to run the ball, pound the ball but then we’ll surprise you with the pass.”
New faces on D
The Knights return only three starters on defense and will rely on the play of its veteran linemen — Fehring, Krause and Ruhl — to control the line of scrimmage.
Last season, Lourdes pitched a pair of shutouts and gave up a respectable 22 points per game last year.
However, in their four meetings against WIAA playoff qualifiers that number climbed to almost 32 points per game as the Knights finished 1-3.
“We got to get the kids play together as a unit. We’re very much a team-oriented defense, we rely on each other heavily to get our stuff done,” Obrigewich said. “If one guy going rogue warrior on us, it makes everybody’s life difficult.”
Every year since 2003, a Lourdes Academy team has qualified for the WIAA playoffs — that’s 10 straight trips.
This year’s squad doesn’t see any reason why the streak should end with them.
“We expect to be there. That’s our goal every year,” Krause said.
It won’t be easy though.
Of the three other teams that made the playoffs from the Trailways Large last year, the Knights will face two of those teams — Montello/Princeton/Green Lake and Deerfield — on the road this season.
Pardeeville comes to Titan Stadium in the second-to-last week of the year.
For Obrigewich, though, there’s only one game that matters at this point of the season. That’s the opener against North Fond du Lac.
“Haven’t even mentioned anything, but North Fond du Lac,” Obrigewich said. “I can’t have minds wandering thinking about what could happen or what might happen, I need them to be thinking about what needs to happen Friday night.
“With a young team, we can’t be looking at the playoffs right now. Now we just have to be looking at getting better. We have to be looking to get the jobs done we need to get done. If we do get those things done, then (the playoffs) might be option for us.”