Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013 | 1 p.m.
The biggest early highlight of Vernon Fox’s nascent tenure at Faith Lutheran might have come in the first practice he coached.
Fox introduced a couple new schemes to his players and was taken aback by how they responded. Not only did the Crusaders grasp the new wrinkles immediately, but they ran through them with force and speed.
It was something any new coach would want to see, but especially one in his first year in charge at any level. And especially one whose expectations had been artificially lowered by the perception of outsiders.
“I saw we had a lot more talent than people led me to believe when I got to Faith Lutheran,” Fox said. “I heard a lot of negatives before I got here.”
Everything out of Fox’s mouth, however, is so positive that it sounds like the Crusaders deserve a spot on any list of sleeper teams in the Las Vegas Valley. Faith Lutheran isn’t so much enduring a rebuilding as it is going through a rearranging under Fox.
The team’s coach for the last 12 years, Jake Kothe, remains on the staff. More than half of the varsity roster lists seniors starting their fourth year in the program.
“It gives us an advantage in terms of guys who have been around,” Fox said. “They’ve played together and know they’re guys who we’re going to lean heavily upon.”
The team’s core connected with Fox as quickly as they impressed him. Players like senior linebacker Danny Otuwa and senior tight end Hayden Solis discovered it was easy to relate to the 33-year-old coach who starred for Cimarron-Memorial 14 years ago.
It surely didn’t hurt that Fox arrived only a few years removed from an eight-year NFL career that saw him play for four different teams as a defensive back.
“I like the new mentality he has brought to the table,” Solis said.
Fox believes Solis could make a big push further onto the radars of college coaches if he plays to his potential this season. He also thinks Otuwa has a future on the next level.
But it’s not all holdovers from last year’s team who will star for the Crusaders in their attempt to capture to win the Division I-A Sunset. Keenan Smith, a 5-foot-7, 160-pound running back and wide receiver, transferred in from Bishop Gorman, where he impressed when given opportunities.
“He got to Faith Lutheran around the same time I did, in the early spring,” Fox said. “He proved early on that he was a kid who was explosive with a lot of athleticism. If we can really get the ball in his hands in open space, he can give a lot of defenses problems.”
Fox is also excited about the size his team boasts. A monstrous offensive line led by 6-foot-6, 335-pound Frank Neuhauser is expected to be a strength.
That’s another unit that could catch opponents off-guard this season, which begins Friday for Faith Lutheran with a game against Colorado’s Parker Lutheran. Fox learned in that first practice that the Crusaders would be full of surprises.
“When I was a player, I prided myself on being a smart guy who knew what I was doing at all times,” Fox said. “But you’re talking about high school kids who were picking up on stuff in a 30-minute session and being able to sound off on answers to questions right away. It let me know we had some good clay to mold right away.”