Althoff is ready to make another run at Rochester and the Class 4A state championship.
The Crusaders began practice Monday under cloudy skies but with a sunny outlook about the season despite the graduation of stars like Jordan Goodwin, Jaylon Bester, C.J. Coldon, Trey Mosley, Bryson Strong, Edwyn Brown, Christian Wills and Chris Branson.
Coach Ken Turner’s team was 11-1 last season, its only defeat coming 48-47 to eventual state champion Rochester in the semifinals of the Class 4A playoffs.
“The first day is for everybody in the state; the whole state’s excited,” Turner said. “Everybody feels like they have a chance. Everybody starts from ground zero at this time, so everybody is excited, motivated. No one’s had many injuries and you put your team together.”
Sure, the Crusaders’ roster took a hit, but Turner is eager to work with the current crop of talent that includes left offensive tackle Jordyn Slaughter, wideout/running back/defensive back Melvin Brock, safety/running back Justin Strong, right guard E.J. Rheinecker and defensive lineman Devyn Nash. Slaughter (Illinois), Strong (Southern Illinois University Carbondale) and Rheinecker (Murray State) have already made verbal commitments.
The goal is to go out and play hard every day, get into the playoffs and win a state championship.
Coach Ken Turner
“I really like what I’ve seen out of a lot these guys this summer,” Turner said. “They learned from some of the best we’ve had around here in the last few years. We’ve got some pretty good athletes left. We’re filling a lot of spots, but we’re where we want to be as a program. Once those type (of) guys leave, then the next guy is ready to step up.
“Our history has been that way; the next guy’s got to be ready to step up. These guys are ready to step up. Their goal is the same as the goal last year. The goal is to go out and play hard every day, get into the playoffs and win a state championship.”
The 6-foot-5, 305-pound Slaughter is poised for a productive season on the offensive line, which could be the Crusaders’ No. 1 strength.
“There’s a lot of excitement going into (the season),” said Slaughter, who chose the Illini and second-year coach Lovie Smith over Toledo, Western Illinois, SIUC, Southeast Missouri State, South Dakota, Eastern Illinois and Bowling Green.
“My goal is go get better as a run-blocker,” he said. “That’s what people didn’t really like about my film last year. They said I was more of a raw talent than a perfected talent, which is kind of weird for a high-school lineman because nobody is perfected coming into college.”
Two senior transfers from O’Fallon are outside linebacker/running back Richard Cosey and receiver/safety Iverson Brown. Cosey had 55 tackles, three sacks and two fumble recoveries last year while rushing for 368 yards and six touchdowns.
Two other transfers are senior left guard Peyton Ledbetter, formerly of Freeburg, and senior quarterback Hayes Taylor, who was at Ladue last year. Ledbetter is part of the offensive line that will include senior right tackle Patrick Ahrens (6-8, 350).
There’s a lot of excitement going into (the season).
“That’s our corps,” Turner said. “It’s a very big line — the biggest one I’ve had since I’ve been head coach. They’re a close-knit group.”
Althoff’s new field behind the school is expected to be ready by Sept. 22 or Oct. 6. The Crusaders have been playing their home games at Lindenwood-Belleville.
Turner said the Crusaders’ final regular-season game will be Oct. 20 at Houston Christian in Texas.
“It’s going to be a long haul,” Turner said. “It will be a great experience for the guys. They were 6-3 last year and traditionally they’ve been a good program.
“We didn’t have the opportunity to play anyone (else). Either they were taken up or they wouldn’t play us. If that means your program has been successful — when some teams won’t play you — then, hey, we’ll take that. It means our kids are doing something right.”
David Wilhelm: @DavidMWilhelm