Lourdes football season preview: Eagles welcome 16 starters from 8-2 team

Lourdes captains are, from left, Kurt Bieniek, Mark Pagel, Sam Muehlenbein and Cam Miller.

Just think if they handed out championships based solely on preseason projections.

If so, Rochester Lourdes would be sitting pretty right about now.

Take a step back for a minute.

Last year the Eagles were coming off a 14-0 season and a Class AAA Prep Bowl championship.

Losing starter after starter after starter from that team, Lourdes was supposed to be in a rebuilding mode.


That didn’t happen. Instead, the Eagles surprised many with an 8-2 record, with both of those losses against Stewartville, by a total of 10 points. They were knocked out of the section playoffs in the semifinals.

Fast forward to this year.

The expectations are, shall we say, a little higher than last year at this time. That’s because coach Mike Kesler, who is entering his eighth season, welcomes back a whopping 16 starters. That’s a rarity at any level, high school, college or the pros, where there is plenty of turnover as well.

And for Kesler, 16 is, indeed, sweet. He’s never had that many returning starters before.

"Sixteen? Sure, you might expect good things,’’ he said. "But remember, it is just a number. It all depends on how hard the kids work and if they come together as a group.

"If they do, then who knows.’’

Offensive line is back

In football, it all starts up front, right? At least that’s what we’ve always been told.


That said, the Eagles have their entire offensive line returning.

"That’s awfully nice; I’ve never had that happen before,’’ said Kesler.

Anchoring the line — both sides of it really — is Sam Muehlenbein, a 6-foot-3, 270-pound senior who will play somewhere in 2013 at the next level.

"Sam is one of the top linemen in the area,’’ said Kesler. "He’s very good and plays smart.’’

Muehlenbein started every game as a sophomore on the championship team, and has only been getting better.

Senior Cam Miller (6-1, 245) is at right guard and junior Jordan Lemanski at right tackle. At left tackle, look for junior Chris Wasz (6-4, 215) and senior Khoa Nguyen (6-2, 200) at left guard.

Awfully fast backfield

Want some speed in your backfield? You got it.


Brothers Kane and McKay Carstens, juniors, ran the third and fourth legs on the Eagles’ Class A state winning 800 relay team last June.

They’ll be side-by-side in the backfield, expected to get the majority of the carries; Kane (5-10, 180) rushed for 397 yards and McKay (5-10, 170) 263 yards a year ago.

Griff Slightam (5-10, 195) returns as fullback. He rushed for 435 yards and four touchdowns last year as a freshman.

Senior Mark Pagel saw plenty of time as quarterback last year, alternating with then senior Sean Griffin. Pagel passed for 262 yards and threw a pair of touchdown passes.

And at 6-4, Pagel is the tallest quarterback Kesler has ever coached.

"He looks like a college quarterback because he sees things so well,’’ Kesler said. "Mark gives us a new dimension, something we haven’t had before. He had a great basketball and golf season and has really worked hard in the offseason. All the experience he got last year won’t hurt, either.’’

Alex Glynn has the most experience of any of the four wideouts expected to see most of the playing time. He caught passes worth 151 yards last year. John Bigler, Christopher Kehoe and Jordan Treder will see plenty of action, too. All four are seniors.

Tight ends include Kyle Kapraun (6-3, 190), Luke Morrey (5-11, 160) and Dan Sloan (6-1, 175). Kapraun and Morrey are seniors and Sloan a junior.


"First and foremost, our tight ends need to block first,’’ said Kesler, "and they know that.’’

Junior Michael Brandt returns as the kicker. A year ago as a sophomore, he converted on five field goals and 12 extra points.

Who’ll punt is up in the air.

Miller and Muehlenbein take up the middle on defense.

Ends will be rotated between Wasz, Dan Sloan, John Luebbe and Lemanski.

Senior Kurt Bieniek (5-11, 190) gets the call in the middle at linebacker, and is flanked by Kehoe and Brandt.

Along with Glynn, the Carstens brothers will be stationed in the defensive backfield.

Graduated quarterback Sean Griffin led the Eagles last year in rushing (723 yards) and receiving (196), and was second behind Pagel in passing (197) last season. He was also first in all-purpose yards (1,293) and scoring (116 points), with 18 touchdowns.


He was the leading Lourdes rusher in six of the last seven games.

"Those are some big shoes to fill,’’ said Kesler.

There are 66 players on Lourdes’ varsity roster and 80 playing in grades 9-12, both high marks in Kesler’s tenure.

The Eagles averaged 280.8 yards and 26.7 points a game while allowing an average of 257.7 yards and 16.3 points.

"For the first time in a long time at this time of the year, the offense is ahead of the defense,’’ said Kesler. "Hopefully, the defense catches up.’’

On the eight-game schedule, Lourdes will face three schools with new coaches — La Crescent, Hayfield and Pine Island.

"The HVL will be competitive, as usual,’’ said Kesler. "It’s a long year and anything can happen, but we feel we have as good of a shot as anybody."


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