ROCKY RIVER — Lutheran West endured a football season in 2009 that would make every coach's or fan's worst nightmares.
Injuries ravaged the Longhorns' already thin depth chart last season. They lost every quarterback they had and were forced to move running backs to the quarterback position.
As bad as that was, it was like that at just about every position.
So, seeing that Lutheran West ran the table in reverse, going 0-10 overall and 0-7 in the Patriot Athletic Conference, shouldn't come as any surprise to the casual observer.
"The injuries last season were a very unique situation," said Longhorns coach Dave Geye, who is entering his third season at his alma mater. "Obviously, it got a lot of younger kids more experience than we had counted on, which could help this season.
"I was extremely proud of our kids and coaches last season. They never really did hang it up. It would have been really easy for the kids to mail it in and we never did. I was extremely proud of how we worked all year long, and hopefully that will carry over through to this season."
Senior Adam Shick, who returns as a starting offensive tackle, was the lone player from last season's team that made it through the entire year at his original position. Everyone was either lost to injury or had to move to a different position as a result of someone else's injury.
"He was kind of our sole survivor last year," Geye said. "He deserves a lot of credit for that. He's one of our captains and was very good at offensive tackle and defensive tackle last year, and we expect him to do the same this year."
As a result of the injuries, several sophomores got varsity experience that they may have not normally received, even at a school as small as Lutheran West. As a result, the Longhorns have 14 lettermen and 12 starters back.
Senior James Ranc, who began the season at quarterback, was lost for the season during a Week 3 loss to Independence. That injury seemed to open the floodgates for more injuries as the Longhorns struggled through the PAC part of the schedule.
As a result, a team that went 7-3 in 2008 and was expected to compete with Clearview for the top spot in the Stripes Division now has nowhere to go but up.
Ranc's backup was injured during practice for the Longhorns' Week 4 matchup with Brookside and never played. Marcus Spelich and Brad Watson, both back as seniors, were normally the tailbacks, but played that game as the "two-headed monster" at quarterback.
However, Spelich was lost for the season due to a broken collarbone, and Watson, who was expected to be Lutheran West's leading ball carrier, was thrust into quarterback duties the remainder of the season.
This year, with Ranc and Spelich having clean bills of health, normalcy should return to Lutheran West's quarterback position.
Watson, who was a state qualifier in the 800-meter run in the spring, will team with Spelich to form what should be a formidable backfield duo. Ranc, who was on pace to gain more than 1,000 yards on the ground before his injury, is a dual-threat under center that Geye will certainly employ.
"If (Ranc) stays healthy, he's going to be very good for us," Geye said.
The Longhorns' top goals are improving on last season's record and, most importantly, staying healthy.
"We had to shift a lot of people around and that got very frustrating for them as players and us as coaches," Geye said. "Injuries are always hard to deal with, but at the small-school level, it becomes almost impossible. So we're preaching stability, health and keeping kids where they started, which was very hard to do last year.
"So far, knock on wood, we're good in that regard."
Forcing players to play different positions should help their versatility this season, should the opportunity arise again.
"A lot of younger kids got playing time last year, so we don't have a lot of true newcomers to the team," Geye said. "In fact, there were even some freshmen that qualified for a varsity letter last year because of the injuries. We are obviously going to use that experience we got last year to be competitive in all of our games."
Geye feels that competing for the PAC Stripes Division title, along with improving from last season and staying healthy, are realistic goals to shoot for this season.
Juniors who played a lot as sophomores last year include Larry Oldenburg (fullback/inside linebacker), Art Schwandt (fullback/inside linebacker) and Zack Zupancic (center). Sophomore Kameron Bremer got a lot of time on both the offensive and defensive lines last season, and should be counted on to provide depth this year.
"We've been emphasizing about team unity and having each other's backs, and the guys have really responded to that," Geye said. "A lot of that carried over from last year. The kids gave us every effort they had last year, and that was huge. Now, we need to keep getting better and keep playing as a group."
More high school football previews
- Elyria ready to chase playoffs
- EC has plenty to be excited about
- Midview has depth, confidence, too
- Rangers staying hungry
- Keystone counting on defense
- Wellington plans to throw more
- Avon Lake needs a runner
- Amherst expects to be even better this year
- Oberlin staying positive despite heavy graduation losses
- Lorain has high hopes for Titans
- Clippers feel new guys are prepared
- Columbia thinks this season could be a special one
- Brookside’s comfort level rising
- Are Sailors on the way back up?
- Olmsted Falls relying on excellent senior class
- Firelands’ focus on present, not future
- Avon looks to return to playoffs
- Pay-to-pay hasn’t derailed North Olmsted’s optimism
- Black River loaded with talent
- Lutheran West hoping to stay healthy this season
- Coach thinks Westlake will have big year
Contact Dan Gilles at 329-7135 or email@example.com.