Like all of the hundreds of high school football programs in Illinois, the names and faces at Althoff change each and every year. For coach Ken Turner and the Crusaders, the winning tradition continues.
The Crusaders finished 2017 with a 9-2 record and a seventh straight trip to the IHSA playoffs.
“We had a good run here. It’s gotten to the point to where kids come in each year expecting to be good. As a football coach, that’s all that you want,’’ Turner said. “You want your kids to come in with that winning attitude and to live up to the success that the players before them had.
“I think that’s where we are right now as a football program. These kids want to be winners.’’
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Althoff must reload after graduating several players from a team that lost to eventual state champion Rochester in the second round of the Class 4A playoffs. The Crusaders graduated 19 seniors and have just seven seniors on the new roster.
They get their first test Friday when Althoff takes on Elmhurst Immaculate Conception at Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington.
One returning returning is Hayes Taylor. The 6-2, 225-pound Taylor played quarterback a year ago, but could see more time as a wide receiver. Listed as an “athlete” on the Crusaders roster, Taylor may be used in dual roles this season.
Senior Cameron Rodgers and junior Jeremiah Miller (5-5, 165) will be mainstays in the Crusaders backfield at running back while junior Will Ache (6-2, 185) will lead the Crusaders at quarterback.
“Will is a very smart football player with good skills,’’ Turner said. “Miller and Rodgers are two guys that we’ll alternate in the backfield. Rodgers has good size 6-1, 190) and also good speed where as Jeremiah has the potential to be electric for us. Very elusive with great speed.
“We like having a couple of backs anyway that we can alternate.’’
Ache will have Taylor and junior wide receivers Dylan Appleton and Nick Alberico to throw to this season while Jyhaden Fridge is a sophomore with a lot of potential.
On the offensive line, the Crusaders will start four juniors and a senior, none of which played a year ago.
Juniors Mack Harris (6-2, 240) , Will Wise (6-2, 210), Nicholas Greenwood (5-11, 220), Zach Grellner (6-6, 280) and senior Booker Grigsby (5-10, 285) will be the players up front leading the way.
“i really like the kids up front. They’re all inexperienced, but from where they were at the beginning of the summer until now, the progress has been just amazing,’’ Turner said. “This is probably one of the hardest working groups of kids we’ve has since I’ve been here.’’
Jacob Shields (6-2, 205) will also see playing time on the offensive line.
Grigsby will be one of four Crusaders who will line up on both sides of the football and will be a key at nose tackle, while Jeremiah Branson (6-1, 205) and Greenwood will also be keys on the defensive line. Harris will also be a mainstay for the Crusaders up front.
Nolan Schmidt (6-1, 240), a three-year starter returns at linebacker, as does Darius Walker. Curtis Sharp rounds out that unit.
Appleton and Nick Alberico, each a returning starter, lead the defensive backfield. Jason Blackmon and Anneus Riggs also will start.
Althoff will also return kicker-punter Stone Galloway who should be among the best in the St. Louis area.
With so many young players expected to play key roles, Turner would like to give his team a while to gel. Unfortunately, he can’t.
“We can’t afford to have a slow start. With Elmhurst Immaculate Conception in week one and Vianney in week two, we need to be ready from the start of the season on,’’ Turner said. “I really like this group. They have really impressed us with their work ethic. Of course we have to wait until we get into game action, but we like what we see.’’