Football program begins rebuilding process, looks to future

The Lawrence University football team has long been in need of something new — something to generate excitement for students and players alike. The performance on the field has remained stagnant for much of the last decade, leading many to question their future.

It appears we may finally have some answers, as an upgraded Banta Bowl, larger recruiting classes and possible personnel changes are on the horizon. As Athletic Director Mike Szkodzinski assures, there is reason for LU football faithful to be optimistic.

“Each year we look to bring in 25 or more student-athletes for the football program with the hopes of reaching a roster at, or above 70 players,” said Szkodzinski. “This has been a challenge in recent years, but a challenge we are working on diligently.”

This year, the team brought in 15 freshmen (eight on offense, seven on defense) in the attempt to bolster last year’s thin roster. Cultivating this talent is the top priority for this team, and so far, so good.

“The new guys on the team have picked up and executed the defense well,” said Brandon Taylor, senior linebacker and team co-captain. “I remember when I was a freshman, and I wish that I could have picked up things at the pace of the current freshman we have.”

The young unit settled down and stuck to their assignments in the season opener at Rockford, and shut out Maranatha Baptist University on Sept 13. “The defense is paying attention to the little things and being coachable,” added Chris Harris, interim head coach.

Discipline is always a work in progress for a young defense, but earning the praise of captains and coaches is a solid steppingstone for the group.

Offensively, the Vikings are experimenting at the quarterback position. Freshman Chance Byrd and sophomore Tanner Schuh are in a platoon system, having split snaps almost up the middle thus far.

Coach Harris refers to both as “talented” players, who are “improving each practice.” Practices have been at a faster pace under Harris, which has helped both players adjust to game speed much quicker.

“Coach Harris does not like to talk about doing something, he just wants to see it done fast, correctly, and with maximum effort,” commented Taylor. Whether Harris remains the coach after this season, or returns to his offensive coordinator duties, the players have certainly benefited from his practice style.

As mentioned earlier, the Banta Bowl will be getting a much-needed facelift this offseason. Szkodzinski expects the project to develop at a Chris Harris practice speed.

“Our goal is to start construction as soon as this football season is completed. That would allow us enough time to have a newly renovated stadium for both the soccer and football seasons next fall,” said Szkodzinski.

What is the best part of it all? The Banta Bowl would celebrate its 50th anniversary in sleek new confines.

The five million dollar project, which includes a new playing surface, press box and concessions, will have a positive impact on future prospects. In its current state, the Banta Bowl has likely driven more recruits away from Lawrence than it has attracted.

Renovations like this have potential to change a culture, give a stagnant team some life and revitalize the students’ outlook on Lawrence football.

Szkodzinski and the football coaching staff will work tirelessly to recruit and cultivate a successful product on the football field. It will be something new, a welcome change at Lawrence University.