The Van Wert County Courthouse

Monday, Jan. 17, 2022

Line play key for 2021 Crestview Knights

SCOTT TRUXELL/independent sports editor

CONVOY — James Lautzenheiser is no stranger to Crestview football.

The 2000 Crestview High School graduate teaches middle school social studies, served as head track and field coach and spent 10 seasons as an assistant football coach. Now, he’s entering his first season as head football coach, taking over for Jared Owens, who compiled a 72-39 record in 10 seasons.

Senior running back Nick Helt is slated to receive plenty of carries for the Crestview Knights during the upcoming 2021 high school football season. Bob Barnes/Van Wert independent sports

“I’m excited to get back to a normal season,” Lautzenheiser said. “I’m looking forward to resuming a more routine regular season calendar and I’m anxious to see this team on the gridiron. Our goal is to compete for a NWC championship and earn the right to play in the OHSAA playoffs.”

Lautzenheiser noted that any success will start with the guys up front. The Knights have three returning starters with good size along the offensive and defensive lines – guards Landin Friemoth (6-0, 270 senior) and Mason Penix (6-1, 280 senior), tackle Tanner Short (6-0, 240 junior), and defensive linemen Trevon Barton (5-11, 220 senior, 48 tackles, four sacks in 2020), Dylan Barricklow (6-3, 300 senior) and Donovan Wreath (5-9, 190 junior). Barton is also expected to start on the offensive line, along with Wesyn Ludwig (6-1, 220 junior) and Penix will play on the defensive front four.

“Our team will rely heavily on the strength and experience of our offensive and defensive lines in order to fulfill our game plan each week,” Lautzenheiser said. “Most of these 2021 starters have played in very significant game moments as starters or rotational players over the past two or three years. We have maturing depth coming up behind these young men, and our goal is to use that depth to stay fresh throughout the season and within individual games.”

The offensive line will block for new running backs this season. Brody Brecht and Logan Gerardot combined for over 2,600 yards and 31 touchdowns in 2020, but both graduated in the spring.

Nick Helt (5-7, 150 senior) received the bulk of carries during last Friday’s scrimmage against Van Wert and is expected to be one starter, along with Wreath.

“I think it is fair to say that Nick Helt is our primary running back in our zone attack,” Lautzenheiser said. “He has great vision and is not afraid to take on defenders at the point of attack. We are fortunate that he can mentor some of our younger running backs like Isaac Kline (5-9, 150 sophomore) and Jaret Harting (6-1, 170 sophomore).”

“We also have Donovan Wreath as our primary fullback this year, Lautzenheiser continued. “Donovan has had a tremendous off-season and never turns down an opportunity to grind for extra yardage in the scrum of a play.”

JJ Ward (6-0, 190 senior) started at quarterback in 2020 (33-of-83, 557 yards, three touchdowns, three interceptions, 279 yards rushing, five touchdowns) and he’s back along with two others who have been taking snaps – Carson Hunter (6-2, 175 junior) and Ryan Sowers (5-11, 140 senior).

“Coach (Jack) Hemmelgarn and I have purposely rotated all three of these quarterbacks in the No. 1 and 2 huddles this preseason and our goal is to have them all ready to play each week at quarterback or another offensive position,” Lautzenheiser explained. “JJ is our returning starter and has carried himself as such during camp, but he knows that we benefit from having one or two other leaders ready to do the same job.”

Ayden Lichtensteiger (15) will be a key player at linebacker for the Knights this season. Bob Barnes photo

“I would expect that type of progression this week as we prepare for Rockford,” he added. “Any team would benefit from having these three capable leaders for the main huddle.”

The receiving corp is led by Rontae Jackson (6-0, 185 senior), who caught five passes for 152 yards and two touchdowns last season and tight end Ayden Lichtensteiger (6-2, 200 senior).

“We have a core group of receivers and tight ends emerging right now,” the coach said. “I would expect to see a heavy dose of Rontae Jackson, Hunter Rothgeb (5-9, 145 senior), Ayden Lichtensteiger, Parker Speith (6-1, 143 junior), Kellin Putman (5-11, 145 sophomore), Beau Eggleston (6-2, 175 sophomore), and Hunter Jones (6-1, 150 sophomore) as we move toward our NWC schedule. We also have some very capable freshmen that will push for situational snaps according to personnel matchups.”

Lichtensteiger is the only returning starter at linebacker, while Jackson, Hunter and Rothgeb all return in the defensive backfield, while Kaden Kreischer (5-10, 150 senior) returns as the team’s placekicker.

“While most of our fans are eager to see how the offense might appear different than years past, I think that our defense and special teams units have the potential to be the backbone of our team this fall,” Lautzenheiser said. “I have been impressed by the way that our players have responded to coach (Jake) Harmon’s new defensive system and his personality.”

“Additionally, coach (Ben) Schamp has taken on the role as special teams coordinator this year and I know he’s up late at night reviewing film, adjusting depth charts, and scouting opponents for weekly scheme adjustments,” Lautzenheiser added. “If those facets of the game continue to sharpen and develop, my job will be to convert opportunities into scores, and that’s where things get very fun for our kids on the team.”

Kory Lichtensteiger, Levi Orsborn, Colten Royer and Dylan Henry round out the coaching staff.

The Knights will open their season Friday at Parkway.

POSTED: 08/17/21 at 8:42 pm. FILED UNDER: Sports