It's one thing to be new to varsity football.
It's another thing to be new to varsity football and have an extremely young team, which was the doubly difficult challenge Westminster Christian faced during its inaugural varsity season in 2013.
The Warriors took their lumps against some of the Northeastern Athletic Conference's top teams during the season's first half before finding their legs late in the campaign. A memorable 33-28 home win in Week 8 over Christian Liberty broke the ice. They finished the year on a winning streak, courtesy of a 40-6 victory at North Shore Country Day in Winnetka.
The 2-7 record placed them eighth in a 10-team league, not bad considering the roster of 30 included nine sophomores and 13 freshmen.
Westminster Christian enters its second year with a roster of 22, but what the second edition team lacks in depth it hopes to make up for in impact, thanks to players with a year of varsity experience under their belts.
The offense returns senior quarterback Max Tucker and all-NAC wide receiver Scott Graziano, a sophomore. The sure-handed Graziano (5-foot-9, 150 pounds) is the area's leading returning receiver with 40 catches for 694 yards and 6 touchdowns. Tucker, who attended college camps at Purdue, Cornell, Nebraska and Northern Illinois, among others, is the area's leading returning passer. Last year he threw for 1,514 yards and 12 touchdowns on 139-of-263 passing.
Tucker and Graziano, not to mention returning junior receivers Connor Albrecht (12 rec., 101 yards, TD) and Noah Anderson (9 rec., 46 yards, TD), were partly responsible for the Warriors' success in summer seven-on-seven competitions. They won the St. Edward tournament against teams like Wheaton Academy and Elgin. At another tournament they defeated much larger schools like St. Charles North, South Elgin, Streamwood and Boylan.
"We won pool play and we were playing seniors and the best of the best, so that gives them confidence going into the season," Westminster coach John Davis said of his offense. "
A key to the attack's will be sophomore running back Xavier Brown (5-11, 170), who takes over as the team's top ball carrier. He averaged 4.6 yards per carry in limited touches as a freshman.
Leading the way on the offensive line is sophomore prodigy Isaac Hawn, a 6-foot-6, 260-pound force.
"Talk about a kid training in the off-season: he looks like Dolph Lundgren right now," Davis said. "And he's still very fast at 6-6, 260. I don't know what he's benching, but I see him putting four or five plates on there and he's squatting six to eight plates. He's looking good."
Strong sophomore Trevor Sudis (6-1, 205) will play center and junior Zach Galante (6-0, 200) has earned a spot in the lineup, his coach said. The line gets a shot in the arm with the addition of junior Zach Anderson (6-0, 200), a transfer student from Jacobs. Junior Zach Aters (6-2, 320) brings a formidable presence to the lineup. Sophomore John John Davis (6-0, 190) is rated among the top long snappers in the country in his age group, though he might miss the first two games due to an injury.
Davis knows the defense must improve if the Warriors are to be competitive. They yielded averages of 43 points and 380 yards per game with 80 percent of those yards coming on the ground. The program hired former Larkin assistant Terry Schabert as its new defensive coordinator to address the problem.
Key defensive players include Sudis at middle linebacker and junior Nick DeMaira (5-9, 160) and Brown outside. Hawn and Zach Anderson play defensive tackle, Graziano and Albrecht return as cornerbacks and Noah Anderson is back at safety.
Can Westminster Christian improve on its 2-7 record in its second year of varsity football?
"We'll know more in two weeks because we'll have seen two totally different offenses by then," Davis said of Luther North's running attack and Mooseheart's spread. "But I'm cautiously optimistic.