Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Friday, Aug. 29, 2014 | 2 a.m.
Las Vegas Sun sports reporters Ray Brewer and Case Keefer try to contain their excitement for the start of the football season enough to get through the first slate of games. They also discuss the two defending state champions, Bishop Gorman and Faith Lutheran.
Wanting a lighthearted way to finish off a week of grueling two-a-day practices earlier this month, the Faith Lutheran coaching staff outfitted offensive coordinator Nate Knight in a Velcro target suit.
Knight ran across the Summerlin school’s field with the Crusaders lined up and armed with ammunition across from him.
“We just let them fire away at him,” Faith Lutheran coach Vernon Fox said. “They were throwing these little tennis balls, and a few stuck.”
Now Knight can say he knows how his players will feel all season. Everyone is gunning for Faith Lutheran after it emerged to win the Division 1-A state championship last year.
The Crusaders hadn’t posted as much as one winning season since 2007, but they closed last year with 12 consecutive victories. They’ll carry the state’s longest winning streak — Division 1 champion Bishop Gorman has won only 10 straight after losing to a national opponent last season — into their opener Saturday against Shelley High in Shelley, Idaho.
“We had a couple weeks off right after we won state,” senior tackle John Molchon said. “Right after those couple weeks, we honestly just turned it around and it was a new team. We started placing the new building blocks to continue what we want to achieve.”
Faith Lutheran accepted that it would be attacked in every game. The Crusaders came to grips with the new reality quickly, in part because they knew they could depend on an intimidating front line of enforcements.
No one in the lower division has a better line, on either offense or defense, than the Crusaders. In addition to Molchon, who’s collecting as many scholarship offers as pancake blocks, they have standout senior guard Max McPherson and senior tackle Austin Prather blocking for a rich collection of skill players.
Although they lost leading rusher Keenan Smith and leading receiver Vinny DeGeorge to graduation, sophomore running back Christian Marshall and senior wide receiver Mark Rubalcaba gained valuable experience during the state championship run.
They’re both ready to fill into featured roles during the title defense.
“We are a physical team,” Prather said. “We will maul you. We will run over you. We will do whatever it takes to win, and we are going to win. We’ve got to keep that mindset.”
They’ll take on a similar persona on defense, where many of the same players are expected to dominate up front.
“Last year, our linebackers were kind of the standout performers on defense for us,” Knight said. “This year, we’re going to be more stout on the defensive line.”
The Crusaders also return one of the best safeties in the state in senior Tyler Mahan. Fox ran the defense a year ago but relinquished coordinator duties to former UNLV great Jamaal Brimmer before this season.
Somehow, Brimmer avoided the fate of dressing up as the human target. None of the players ever wore the suit either, but they can already feel it on their backs.
“The rest of the teams are shooting for us,” Fox said. “We know that. Most people reference us as having a lot of expectations, but I try to build that down for our players. The expectations are only what we set for ourselves.”