To have a successful football program, strong leadership is necessary: leadership from coaches, and leadership on the field from returning players. When the game comes down to the wire, successful programs usually have several players that have been in that situation before. Despite suffering the only winless season in Lawrence’s history, the football team was returning a core group of players with tremendous experience.
Lawrence was on pace to field a team this upcoming year with players that have seen action over the last three years. With 17 returning seniors who have all played significant minutes if not started for three years, Lawrence looked as if it could be very competitive in the Midwest Conference.
However, due to several players’ sudden departures from the school, Lawrence has taken a step back in its goal to return to glory.
Would-be starting quarterback R.J. Rosenthal departed after first term, a casualty of the academic war. Rosenthal had passed for over 4,000 yards and 38 touchdowns in his three years as a Viking. His 49 interceptions led to his removal as a starter at the end of this past season.
Rosenthal plans to transfer to a state school to play baseball. Now Lawrence enters the 2003 season with no real candidate for the starring role.
Another key loss has been that of junior guard Derek Lang. A three-year starter and arguably the most fundamentally sound offensive lineman that the Vikings possessed, a recent clash with the administration left Lang feeling unwelcome at Lawrence. He, too, plans to transfer schools as a result.
His loss leaves the Vikings with only four returning linemen. Had he stayed, the Vikings would have returned their entire starting line.
Freshman Josh Gilbert, Jake Vanderstad, and Bobby Flobeck have all left the school since first term. Flobeck left for family reasons.
Family issues also caused freshman linebacker Josh Gonzales to leave for third term, but he promised to return. Sophomore linebacker Jake Beschta transferred out after first term; he felt Lawrence was not meeting his academic needs.
A strong recruiting class and a revamped offense and defensive scheme would significantly help the Vikings’ chances at impacting the Midwest Conference.
After the junior class graduates next year the program will be left with 21 returning players, not including next year’s freshman class. Without a large number of recruits it will be hard for Lawrence to stay competitive.
However, the chance to play immediately should attract some recruits away from prospective schools such as St. Norbert. At most others schools it could be two or three years before a player could earn the chance to play.