Lutheran North News

Reloading Lutheran North Crusaders looking to build on last fall's 7-win season

Over the next few weeks, SBLive Missouri will break down various high school football teams in the state in anticipation of the upcoming 2022 season. Here’s our look at the Lutheran North Crusaders.
Kyle Wagner, 2nd season (7-4)

6 on offense, 6 on defense
Overall record: 7-4
League record: 2-1, 2nd in Metro Athletic
Playoffs: Beat Orchard Farm, 52-3; Lost to Cardinal Ritter, 20-18 in district championship game

RB/WR/DB Ricky Dixon, 5-9, 178, Sr.
Dixon was a first-team all-conference pick at defensive back last fall and his play has garnered attention from a handful of colleges. Dixon has offers from Benedictine and Concordia-St. Paul. One of the team’s captains this fall. He ran for 293 yards and three touchdowns and added 14 catches for 387 yards and five touchdowns. Recorded 56 tackles. “He’s the heart and soul of our program,” Wagner said.

DL/OL Demetrius Jones, 6-2, 250, Jr.
Earned first-team all-conference, all-district and all-state honors last fall for his play on the defensive line. Had 69 tackles and 13 sacks last year. He enters the fall with four Division I offers: Colorado, Eastern Kentucky, Northern Iowa and Iowa State. He took part in the Under Armour Underclassmen camp, while taking visits to Nebraska and Arkansas. “Elite motor, great hands,” Wagner said. “Plays with tremendous leverage. He’s special.”

QB Dakarri Hollis, 6-1, 176, So.
Will move into the starting quarterback role this fall replacing Brian Brown, a three-year starter who is now at Southern Illinois. Saw limited time last year, completing five of eight passes for 43 yards and one interception. Also ran the ball four times for 20 yards. “Arm talent is off the charts,” Wagner said “He can make every throw and change his arm angles to fit balls the average quarterback can not even see. He’s special.”

DB/WR Jonathan Van Hook, 6-0, 181, Sr.
Had 11 tackles and one interception last year but caught plenty of attention from coaches this past summer. Has an offer from Eastern Kentucky and has taken visits to Butler, Southeast Missouri State, Southern Illinois and North Illinois. A team captain for the Crusaders. Also a member of the school’s 4x100- and 4x200-meter relay teams that won state championships in the Class 2 meet in May. Wagner sees him as a Power 5 cornerback.

LB/WR Karvon Jefferson, 6-0, 180, So.
In his first start last year as a ninth grader he had 17 tackles, two sacks, one forced fumble and four TFL. He finished the year with 41 tackles, six TFL and two sacks in seven games. He picked up a Division I offer from Eastern Kentucky and was invited to a camp at Kansas State this summer. “He’s a rare talent,” Wagner said. “Explosive, physical, long, rangy. He will lead the team in tackles.”

OL/DL Marvin Stringfellow, 6-2, 250, Sr.
One of four team captains for the Crusaders, Stringfellow was a first-team all-conference pick last season. He is another player that should have a chance to play at the Division I level.

WR Eric Reedus, 6-0, 185, Sr.; WR Vance Gross, 5-9, 176, Sr.; LB Rico Merriweather, 5-11, 185, Sr.; LB Elijah Thanga, 5-11, 215, Sr.; DE/TE Marquis Coleman, 6-4, 215, Sr.; LB Kyron Dunae, 5-11, 190, Sr.; OL Louis Jordan, 6-4, 270, Jr.; DB Jordan Carter, 5-9, 155, Jr.; RB/LB Mikel Harris, 5-10, 160, Jr.; RB/S Jarrett Burkett, 5-10, 161, Jr.; OL/DL Jayden Little-Sims, 6-3, 295, So.; OL/DL David Gudger, 6-4, 390, So.; LB Kamryn Johnson, 5-10, 172, So.; WR/DB Berry Benson, 5-11, 172, So.; DB Kion Gibson, 5-11, 180, So.; OL Dre’Shaun Pittman, 5-11, 206, So.

WR Trey Bass, 5-11, 170, So.
The Crusaders have been a contender for the state title in recent years and this year should be no different. 
Lutheran North has won six district titles since 2013, the only exceptions being 2016 and last fall. Coach Kyle Wagner, the offensive coordinator on the 2019 state championship team, oversaw an offense that tallied 44 points per game – the sixth time since 2013 the Crusaders averaged more than 40 points per game. The defense allowed 21.3 points per game under the guidance of defensive coordinator Brett Jewell.

This fall will start with six starters back on both sides of the ball and 23 lettermen.

All four losses last year came against teams that were in the semifinals or championship game: St. Mary’s, Cardinal Ritter, MICDS and St. Thomas Aquinas from Overland Park, Kansas.

“The team played up to expectations although we could’ve snuck our way deeper with a better bounce here or there,” said Wagner, hired late in the process in May of 2021.

The offense will have a lot of players back on the offensive line and while debuting a new quarterback, they should be a balanced offense.

Last fall the Crusaders had 222 yards per game on the ground and 205 through the air.

The defensive line could have four Division I players on it and add in sophomore middle linebacker Karvon Jefferson.

Seven players from last year’s team are playing college football this year, including Brian Brown and Jaylen Banks at Southern Illinois. Brown was a three-year starter that was an all-stater that had 57 career touchdown passes and threw for 4,059 yards. The team also lost all-state wide receiver Kevon Jacobs, who is at Lincoln University with high school teammates Jaylin Carson and Josiah James. Defensive back Caldra Williford (Murray State) and defensive lineman Aleem Glass (Alabama A&M) are the other college players.

“This season is about relationships. Honoring them with the way we work, the way we play for one another and continuing to build upon them. As long as these guys play for one another and give it their best effort, I am OK with however the chips fall. They are really tough to beat when they play together. This team has that special ability to finish. I expect them to pull it out if we are in it late into the season.” - Coach Kyle Wagner
This article was originally published here.