RACINE — Anyone scouting the Racine Lutheran High School football team last season might as well have left after the first few series. It took only that long to establish that Shamaj Williams was going to get the ball early and often.
Of the 476 offensive plays Lutheran ran last season, the ball ended up in Williams’ hands 201 times — or 42.2 percent of the plays. But now that Williams has graduated after rushing for 3,491 yards in his high school career, scouts at Lutheran games won’t have it so easy anymore.
Coach Scott Smith plans to spread the ball around this season and he has the impact players for a dynamic offense. From quarterback Josh Hess, who has been switched from wide receiver, to running backs Tyler Tenner, Thomas More and Austin Honore, good luck figuring out who’s going to get the ball.
“We have more kids that we are getting involved and I think it’s going to help us for the whole season,” Smith said.
Start with Hess, who was spectacular as a sophomore receiver. While Hess only caught 10 passes, six went for touchdowns and he averaged nearly 40 yards per reception.
Now every Lutheran play is going to start with the ball in Hess’ hands and the possibilities almost seem scary with his athletic ability.
“It’s admirable that he was able to step up to the plate and replace Antonio Jenkins as quarterback,” Honore said. “So far, he’s been growing and learning and doing a really good job and he’s helping us get better.”
While Williams dominated Lutheran’s running game last season, other returnees were impressive in their limited roles. Tyler Tenner rushed for 514 yards and four touchdowns on 70 carries. Moore was primarily a linebacker, but rushed for 98 yards and a touchdown on six carries against Milwaukee Saint Thomas More.
Furthermore, Jaylen Houston, who missed his freshman season last year with an injury, is back healthy. And slotback Bruce Cosey, Smith said, “has flat-out speed and great hands.”
The Crusaders averaged 32.6 points per game last season after averaging just 10.8 during its 1-8 season in 2015. Look for that improvement to continue, especially considering Lutheran returns starters Dakota Dexter, Alex Schulz, Bradley Bosak and Michael Young to its offensive line.
“We have more speed than we’ve had,” Smith said. “And we have to find ways to get those guys the ball in space.”
The Crusaders also have the potential to be special on defense. Dexter, Honore, Bosak and Elijah Solis return on the defensive line, Moore is back at linebacker and Hess at defensive back. Two other players — linebacker James Wilson and defensive back Colton Krause — are back after being injured last season.
Moore was a first-team All-Metro Classic Conference pick at outside linebacker last season.
“We’re going to change up our defense a little,” Smith said. “We’re not going to just sit in a 4-3. We’re going to run some different types of defenses, all the way from a 4-3 to a 6-2 to a 4-2. I think we have the athletes who can adjust on the fly in the middle of the game.”
The proven commodity that Williams was is no longer around. But the players who are back offer all kinds of possibilities — in talent and in attitude.
“Our senior class, this is our last year and we’re trying to go all out,” Dexter said. “All of us got into the weight room and formed kind of a brotherhood. We’re pretty confident. We just want to go out there and win.”