After a disappointing 6-4 (5-3) finish last year, the Wartburg Knights Football team is ready to kick off a new season.
The team returns more than a handful of starters on both sides of the ball, including most of the skill position players of an offense that averaged over 35 points per game last year. One of those players is senior wide receiver, Riley Brockway, who led the team with 59 catches and was a second team All-Conference selection last year. Brockway said having so many players returning will be a big boost for the offense.
“It builds confidence in us, we know we have the guys here who can do big things,” Brockway said.
Head coach Rick Willis also lauded some of his returning players, but also said there are still openings in the starting lineup that have yet to be settled. Those positions include the starting tight end spot as well as half of the defensive backfield.
On offense, the Knights will be led by Brockway and junior quarterback Matt Sacia as well as seniors, wide receiver Griffin Brennecke and running back Connor Schrader.
Eyes will be on Sacia to see his development heading into his second year in the starting spot. Last season, Sacia accounted for nearly 3,000 total yards and 24 passing touchdowns and will need to produce more of the same as a junior.
Wartburg brings back a lot of experience on the defensive side of the ball with returning starters such as senior Sam Ambrose and junior Peyton Imhof. Also returning this year are fifth year seniors Blake Beckman, Chris McNutt and Rob Rottler, all of whom have been solid contributors over the past couple years.
Rushing the passer could be a struggle this year after graduating last year’s sack leader Dalton Ciavarelli, but the Knights do return players such as seniors Hunter Baldus and Dillon Rademaker, both of whom are adept at putting pressure on the quarterback.
Willis said while rushing the passer is a defensive priority, it may not have a huge effect on the play calling.
“You’re still gonna see us be aggressive, but the key to being a great defense is being able to get pressure on the quarterback without always having to blitz to do it.”
After going several years without a conference title and after last year’s finish, this year’s squad might be overlooked by some people, but Rottler said they prefer it that way.
“If teams don’t expect us to come in and give them our best shot, they are gonna be surprised when we get there,” Rottler said.
Wartburg opens the season on Sep. 9 against Monmouth College.