At the start of last season, the Vikings had 25 freshmen players on their 47-player roster, and were considering themselves doing well just getting the first year players schooled in the basics of Lawrence football. Now, with an entire season behind them, this mostly young veteran team is picking up where they left off.”With so many returning veterans, most of the people know the system,” says Fischer. “We’re 3 or 4 weeks ahead of last year as far as putting in new plays.”
The early losses of wideout Chad Zutter to a torn ACL and offensive lineman Bill Schreiter to a broken ankle have taken their toll, but the conversion of punter Robert Campagna and running back Josh Graham to wide recievers as well as the addition of a defensive lineman to the offensive line should help fill out the ranks. The loss of Zutter and Schreiter points to one lingering problem of the Vikings: lack of depth.
One surprise this season has been the addition of defensive lineman Chad Kloes. Kloes had to quit football last year after a serious concussion, but was cleared to play shortly before the Vikings’ first game. Though used sparingly against Macalaster, Kloes provided needed depth on the defensive line. With more practice he should prove to be a major asset on defense.
“He’s a real player… A big contributor on the line,” says Fischer of Kloes.
A 13-10 victory over Macalaster on Sept. 8 puts the Vikings at 1-0.
Even though the running game was anemic – 1.5 yards per rush – and the passing attack wasn’t much better – 10.4 yards per completion, 2 TD, and 6 interceptions – the Vikings gave reason for hope. The bright spot on offense was sophomore wide-receiver Zach Michael, who had 10 catches for 131 yards (long of 289 yards) and 1 Touchdown.
The defense posted 4 of their own interceptions, and held the pass oriented Macalaster offense to just 18 completions (262 yards) and 1 yard per rush on 22 attempts. Junior cornerback and team co-captain Ryan Zutter led the Vikings with 7 tackles (6 solo) with freshman Jason Holinbeck contributing 4 solo tackles and 2 interceptions
The improved special teams contributed by only giving up 60 all-purpose return yards on 5 kick or punt returns while racking up 46 yards of their own on 4 tries.
“The team chemistry is really good right now. It’s the best since I’ve been here,” says team co-captain and defensive lineman Scott Fischer. He credits that chemistry to lots of offseason group conditioning and activities.
One question mark at the end of last season was the battle for starting quarterback. This year, Coach Dave Brown has handed that position to sophomore R.J. Rosenthal.
Though Rosenthal is happy to be starting, he hasn’t had to change his approach to the game. “It hasn’t affected my play. I still have to prepare for each game the same way,” he says.
The Vikings will face some tough competition this season from within the conference, including games against Illinois, St. Norbert, Knox, Lake Forest, Beloit, Carroll, Monmouth, and conference powerhouses Ripon and Grinnell. Most teams are evenly matched, so the games will be tough, but winnable.
“Right now we’re a better team than we were last year,” comments Rosenthal, adding, “If we cut down on the offensive mistakes, we’ll be pretty tough to beat.”
The Viking’s next game is Sept. 22 at St. Norbert, with the next homegame against Beloit College on Oct. 6.