It all starts up front
It doesn't take a football genius to figure out what Rochester Lourdes is going to do on offense.
The Eagles are going to run, run, run and run, and then run some more. They get off the bus and start running. The pass is, indeed, a four-letter word.
But this is nothing new; Lourdes has been running the football forever, or so it seems.
This year, though, the Eagles are doing it better than they've ever done before.
Two years ago, Lourdes set a school record for yards rushing in a season with 3,768. That broke a record which had been held since 1979. when the Eagles rushed for 3,759 yards.
This year? Lourdes has rushed for 3,816 yards with at least one game remaining. That will be the Class AAA state quarterfinal at 7 p.m. Friday against Jordan, a game to be played at East Ridge High School in Woodbury.
The Eagles have four backs who have rushed for over 700 yards, including Griff Slightam (1,225), Kane Carstens (788), Mark Pagel (737) and McKay Carstens (720).
Every one of them will tell you it all starts with the offensive line and, guess what, they're right.
"It's a special group,'' said Lourdes coach Mike Kesler. "We've had some good offensive teams through the years. These guys are setting the bar pretty high.''
The line has three seniors and a pair of juniors and goes like this — Chris Wasz at left tackle, Khoa Nguyen left guard, Sam Muehlenbein at center, Cam Miller at right tackle and Jordan Lemanski at right guard.
Wasz and Lemanski are the juniors. They range from 200 to 270 pounds.
Continuity certainly helps.
"The seniors have been together since seventh grade,'' said Miller, "and we know each other quite well. It's always nice to line up next to somebody you've played with for a long time.''
This year's line stated together last year, too, which is unusual considering the ever-changing roster turnover of high school football. If you're counting, they've been together now for 21 straight games, 19 of which are wins.
"The best thing about this offense,'' said Miller, "is realizing that one block can spring any one of our backs for a long gain.
"You get Griff or Kane or McKay past the line and that's always a good thing.''
The Eagles have sprung several long runs this year. To help prove that point, Lourdes rushed the ball 653 times in the then record-breaking season of 2010. This year the Eagles have rushed "only'' 507 times.
That figures out to be 7. 5 yards per attempt or an average of 346.9 yards a game.
McKay Carstens has a long run of 78 yards, Kane one for 67, Pagel 65 and Slightam 63. Even little-used Zach Hillman has 109 yards rushing in 11 carries.
"We almost expect someone to break a long run every game,'' said Muehlenbein, the biggest of the group at 6-foot-3, 270 pounds. "That doesn't surprise us any more. All we want to do is get them to the second level. It's fun being in the middle of things.
"For us as linemen, it's instinctive. We've been running the same offense since the seventh grade and by the time we get to varsity, everyone knows what they're doing.''
Lourdes is also within shouting distance of total yards per season. In 2010, the Eagles finished with 4,952 total yards; this year they have 4,383.
Muehlenbein has been front and center for both offenses, having started both ways for Lourdes in 2010 when it won the Prep Bowl with a perfect 14-0 record.
"It's nice to talk about the (rushing) record but we really don't think much about it at all,'' he said. "Two years ago we kind of relied on one back (Adam Lentz, the school's all-time rushing leader) but this year we have so many threats, it's tough to stop.''
So how would he defend against the Lourdes offense, if, hypothetically, he was playing on another team.
"I would put a bunch of guys in the box and see what happens,'' he said, "but even then, I don't know.''