ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO/WQRF) — The Rockford Lutheran Crusaders made the playoffs last season for the first time since 2016. New head coach Jeff Luedke and his assistants had a lot to do with that. More good things should await them in year two.

“I think they’re capable of getting there to the playoffs again, and I think they want it, and expectations are higher,” said Luedke.

The expectations are higher, and the players would agree.

“We’re out here to prove a point, and I feel like this year we can make it farther,” said receiver Tresean Lockhart.

The Crusaders not only made the playoffs last year, they won a playoff game over Annawan-Wethersfield.

This year they have some experience, but they’re still very young. They have only three seniors, a whole lot of juniors and sophomores will be playing in key spots, but that was the case last year too.

One of those key sophomores will be new starting quarterback Daniel Ballard. He was on the varsity team last year, but he didn’t play quarterback.

“Last year he was our nose tackle,” said Luedke. “So that’ll tell you something, but Daniel has always had the ability to throw the ball. We’re going to manage him in a way to control the game and not try to win the game.”

He could win his share of games though with the receivers he’ll have. His older brother David Ballard, junior Jack Behmer, junior Mason Villafuerte and sophomore Tresean Lockhart all have excellent receiver skills.

“I feel like us four are the best receivers in the Big Northern,” said Lockhart.

The Crusaders want to be able to run the ball better this year than they did last year. Gavin Sanders is one key to that. He was impressive last year as a freshman. He’s more mature physically now.

“I think he’s got all the tools to get, to take us to a level that’s a little bit more than we got last year,” said Luedke.

This offense should be able to do a lot this year.

“I think it’s going to be a mixed offense this year. More of the run game and the pass game,” said guard Landon Schoeneweiss.

Schoeneweiss, Eben Nitz, Jesse Hillhouse, Luke Peterson and Isaiah Barnhart will handle the blocking and tackling on the lines. Senior Hunter Evans will be a major force on the offensive line and especially on defense at linebacker.

“He’s [Evans] a leader,” said Luedke. “A quiet leader, and he does it through showing the kids rather than telling the kids which we like.”

Lutheran will open their season Friday, August 25 at home against Winnebago.