Luther Prep will try to snap their streak of missing the playoffs in 2018, having come up one win in the final week short in two of the past three seasons. In each of those seasons, the Phoenix finished with a winning record, but couldn't get the victory they needed to get back to the postseason for the first time since 2006.
That last appearance marked a six-trips-in-seven-years stretch for Luther Prep, and the program has an all-time winning record in the playoffs at 8-6. Yet, the prep school has managed to get almost all the way back only to miss it by a slim margin a couple of times in the past few years.
Coach Justin Gregorius is hoping that experience motivates his team into the offseason, especially since the team made strides all season, but especially in conference play.
"We played some top opponents last year," said Gregorius, referencing the St. Mary's Springs, Lodi, and Lake Mills games. All three teams made it to at least Level 3 last year.
He also noted the improvement of his team as the season went along, especially along the defensive line, but also as players got healthy.
"Preston Borchardt missed the first four games with an injury," said Gregorius. "But when he came back, he really hit the ground running the last five games."
Borchardt will be one of the primary weapons for the Phoenix this season, who will lose a pretty good chunk of their starting lineups on both sides of the ball, as well as their primary specialist. All told, the Phoenix will need to replace nine players who earned all-conference first- or second-team honors a season ago.
Coach Gregorius' son, Zachary, is one of the primary blockers on the edge for Luther Prep, and was selected as a player to watch by WisSports.net in the preseason at the tight end position. Micah Kieselhorst will bring size to the edges on offense and defense, said Gregorius.
Last year's offensive and defensive lines had plenty of size, but most of those players have graduated. Some of the newcomers are in the incoming junior class that may take some of those roles. And, the team will work to find a new player or players to handle kicking duties. Brice Guse was the only player listed who returned a kick or punt last season that is returning, and played safety last year.
With four non-conference games to warm up the Phoenix before Capitol North play begins in Week 5, Luther Prep can work in all of the new faces, especially along the lines. Their four non-conference games feature four opponents who won a combined six games last year. The first three games will be played in Watertown, with Ripon, Kettle Moraine Lutheran, and Westfield all visiting, before a road game at Waterloo on September 7 to wrap up non-conference play.
Conference play begins with a road trip to Lodi, the defending Division 4 state champs. Luther Prep will play their final two home games of the season, against Lakeside Lutheran on September 21, the team that knocked them out of playoff contention in 2017 in Week 9, and Poynette. Then, the Phoenix hit the road to close out the season in October, with Columbus and Lake Mills on tap for the final two weeks of the regular season.
Here is The Big 1070's interview with Luther Prep Phoenix head coach Justin Gregorius:
Luther Prep Phoenix (Watertown) - Capitol North
Head Coach: Justin Gregorius (5th Season), 14-31 Overall
2017 Result: 5-4 (2-3), 4th in the Capitol North
Three-Year Record: 13-14
2017 All-Conference Honors: 3 First-Team, 8 Second-Team, 0 Honorable Mention (11 total)
Three-Year All-Conference Totals: 6 First-Team, 20 Second-Team, 6 Honorable Mention (32 total)
Returning All-Conference Players (2): TE/DE Zachary Gregorius (🏈 WSN) (1st Team-TE), Sr.; RB/LB Preston Borchardt (2nd Team-RB), Sr.
Other Players To Watch: WR/QB/CB Micah Kieselhorst, Sr.; RB/LB Lucas Martin, Sr.; S/RB Brice Guse, Sr.; OL/WR Luke Schlomer, Sr.; CB/RB Ben Hillmer, Sr.; LB/C Zach Scheuerlein, Sr.; LB/RB Nathan DeGally, Jr.; DE/RB Levi Clark, Jr.; DT/OT Jackson Lindemann, Jr.; OT/DT Drew Betschler, Jr.; TE/DL Alexander Gregorius, So.