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September 8, 2011

Lutes Looking To Continue On Success From A Year Ago

Coming off an 8-1 season that saw the Pacific Lutheran University football team barely miss the NCAA national playoffs, the 2011 Lutes will have to transition from a team that has lost 13 starters from a season ago.

Pacific Lutheran has been picked to finish third in the annual Northwest Conference coaches poll released Aug. 11. Two-time defending conference champion Linfield College is the heavy favorite to take the title again in 2011. The Wildcats open the season open the season number nine in the D3football.com national preseason poll. Willamette University is slated to finish one spot above the Lutes in second place.

One reason for the Lutes' third-place pick in the conference may be due to the questions surrounding both the offense and defense as both sides of the football will be losing key players to graduation. Quarterback Jordan Rasmussen, receivers Greg Ford and Isaac Moog, running back Alec Simmons, and left tackle Sten Koos, all received first team all-conference honors in 2010 but have since graduated. In addition, the team losses second team all-conference wide receiver Kyle Whitford and center Conor MacNeil. In all, the Lutes will be losing eight offensive starters from a team that scored 32.1 points per game.

Perhaps the biggest questions this season are at the quarterback position. Senior Zack Halverson (Bellingham, Wash. / Bellingham HS), the most experienced QB on the squad, has attempted one pass in his career for the Lutes. Nonetheless, Halverson, now in his fourth season in the PLU system, has impressed coaches during preseason workouts. Kevin Russell (Lacey, Wash. / Timberline HS) and Dalton Ritchey (Onalaska, Wash. / Onalaska HS) lead an exciting group of freshmen quarterbacks.  

Running back Brandon James (Gig Harbor / Peninsula HS), the team's leading retuning rusher and receiver from 2010, is poised to have a breakout season in 2011. The junior averaged 5.5 yards per carry in limited action during his first season. James will most likely be the team's featured back to begin the season with senior Rockey Rosser (Klamath Falls, Ore. / Henley HS), along with number of promising freshmen, also look to share the work load. Sophomore Va'a Logotala (Kent, Wash. / Kent-Meridian HS) and junior Cody Pohren (Mount Vernon, Wash. / Sedro-Woolley HS) will look to open holes in opposing defenses this season at fullback.

The wide receiver positions will be another area inexperienced players will need to make an immediate impact in 2011. With only one of the team's top eight receivers returning from last season, this year's core of receivers will need to step up early. Seniors Tyler Bowen (Puyallup, Wash. / Rogers HS) and Alex McDiarmid (Livermore, Calif. / Granada HS), along with juniors Tyler Christianson (Vancouver, Wash. / Skyview HS) and Andrew Carlson (Newberg, Ore. / Newberg HS) all have experience in the PLU offense and will provide Halverson with several solid options out wide. Bowen, the most experienced receiver returning for the Lutes caught nine balls in 2010, including a touchdown catch to win the Willamette game.

This season's offensive line will feature two starters who have been a mainstay on the line for three seasons. Seniors Rob Marlow (Renton, Wash. / Liberty HS) and Nick Oglesby (Snohomish, Wash. / Snohomish HS) have started two previous seasons in the trenches for the Lutes. Marlow, a left tackle, earned second team all-conference recognition in 2010. Oglesby, who played both right and left guard for the Lutes in 2010, earned honorable mention recognition. Sophomores Chris Edison (University Place, Wash. / Curtis HS) and Kyle Hofmann (Orcas Island, Wash. / University of Montana) will add a physical presence to the offensive line.

The Lutes may need to rely on its defense in the early part of the season while the offense searches for its identity. Six starters return for Pacific Lutheran and create a solid core in 2011.

First team all-conference safety Sean McFadden (Honolulu, Hawaii / Punahou Schools) returns to lead the secondary this season. The sophomore recorded 54 tackles and three interceptions last year in his first year on campus. Senior Jordan Davison (Sultan, Wash. / Sultan HS) returns to bolster the Lutes' secondary as well. In 2010, Davison recorded 39 tackles, leading to an honorable mention all-conference selection.

Senior linebackers Michael Warsaw (Bend, Ore. / Mountain View HS) and Adam Schwander (Beaverton, Ore. / Beaverton HS) return to make the nucleus of a linebacker's corps that could be very good in 2011. Schwander, the second leading tackler for the Lutes in 2010, was recognized with an all-conference honorable mention selection a season ago.

The defensive line looks to be the strength of the defense in 2011. Senior Erik Magnussen (East Wenatchee, Wash. / Eastmont HS) heads the line this year as a three-year starter, and the Lutes will be glad to see the return of sophomore Mychael Tuiasosopo (Everett, Wash. / Mariner HS). During his freshman season, Tuiasosopo made an immediate impact, starting several games at nose tackle before leaving school mid-season because of an illness in his family. Sophomore Thomas Haney (Granite Bay, Calif. / Humboldt State University), a transfer and the younger brother of former Lute Robert Haney, will be an outstanding addition to the line.

This year's team will need to acquire a road warrior's mentality as the Lutes' most demanding games will be played away from the home confines of Sparks Stadium. On Sept. 17, the Lutes travel to Thousand Oaks, Calif., to take on the California Lutheran Kingsmen, who open the season ranked No. 17 in the nation. PLU will travel to McMinnville, Ore., on Oct. 22, to take on conference favorite and defending champion Linfield College. The Lutes will close out their 2011 regular season on the road again at Willamette University.

Pacific Lutheran kicks off its season on Sept. 10, hosting Hamline University in the first of three non-conference contests. The two teams met up last year, in St. Paul, Minn., with the Lutes recording a 27-20 victory. The Lutes will be looking for another season opening win in 2011 to set them off on the right foot for their nine-game campaign.

-PLU-