by Jeff Fisher
Orange Lutheran opens its season this Friday against Dominguez. Above you can get a preview of this year’s team from third year head coach Chuck Petersen.
Below, is a preview story that was posted on the school’s website:
Chuck Petersen is entering his third season at the helm of the Orange Lutheran football program. But it only took him two seasons, if not less, to learn what Trinity League football is all about.
“In our league, what I’ve noticed is no matter how good you are or how good you’re supposed to be, every game is a game that you can lose.”
And if you combine the competitiveness of Trinity League football, with the excitement infused into some programs itching to beat a Trinity League team, you have the formula for one gauntlet of a schedule.
In 2014-15, the Lancers will utilize that formula to the fullest extent, as Petersen and the crew will endure one of the toughest schedules in the nation, including pre-league matchups with Corona Centennial and Vista Murrieta.
With the season set to begin, several sports publications have analyzed and ranked the strength of schedule for Orange County teams. Maxpreps.com gave Orange Lutheran an honorable mention nod in its ranking of the Top 10 Toughest High School Schedules in the nation, and OCsidelines.com gave the Lancers’ schedule a grade of ‘A.’
Calpreps ranks the Lancers’ schedule as the fourth toughest in the state and the sixth toughest in the country.
Orange Lutheran will open the season on Aug. 29 against Compton Dominguez, the alma mater of Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman. On Sept. 6, the Lancers will take on the Corona Centennial Huskies, the defending CIF Southern Section Inland Division champions, in the Honor Bowl on Time Warner Cable Sportsnet.
“This is one of the toughest preseason schedules we’ve had in awhile,” Petersen said. “Every team we play is one that went to the playoffs last season. The second game of the season against Corona Centennial will be a great challenge. Every week will be a new week for these kids, and sometimes, that’s good.”
The Honor Bowl, put on by The Honor Group, is a football showcase held in both Southern and Northern California, featuring five games in each area. And according to The Honor Group founder Mark Soto, the showcase is aimed at “bringing together students, coaches, and community through sports to raise awareness of the sacrifice of our veterans.”
After their matchup with the Huskies, the Lancers will close out their five-game preseason schedule against Yorba Linda on Sept. 12, Long Beach Cabrillo on Sept. 19, and at Vista Murrieta, the team that lost to Corona Centennial in the CIF-SS Inland Division title game last season, on Sept. 26 in the Fox Sports West Game of the Week.
The Lancers will then have a bye week before opening Trinity League play against Servite, a team that MaxPreps ranks as having the second toughest schedule in the nation.
Despite entering his third season, Petersen has only crafted two schedules for the Lancers. And after completing his second one, he has a new philosophy on exactly how to do it as a Trinity League member.
“Unfortunately and fortunately for us, it becomes a challenge—and I’m not tooting our horn—to schedule games. There are people that won’t play a Trinity League team just because it’s a Trinity League team. It’s difficult. But my philosophy has changed, having spent years in the college game.”
Prior to taking over the Lancer program, Petersen spent 17 years coaching at Air Force, where in 2003, he was named the American Football Coaches Association Division I Assistant Coach of the Year.
Petersen was also a four-year letterwinner as a defensive back for Air Force Academy, and graduated in 1985. Prior to coaching at Air Force, he coached at the University of North Texas and the University of Arkansas.
“In college, week one is just as important as week 12,” he said. “In high school, that’s not the case. You can be 0-5 in preseason, but as long as you win your league, you’re going to the playoffs. So my mindset was that the first five, in an overall sense, aren’t make or break for us. We have to use those games to prepare for the gauntlet that is the Trinity League. We have to be prepared for that last five.”
Preparation will indeed be key for the Lancers, as Petersen himself is prepared to play a young group, many of which will have to learn through experience.
“We’re replacing a bunch of really good seniors, so we’re going to play some sophomores that might not be ready,” he said. “We’re very young and inexperienced. We’re learning the right way to play the game. We’ll be a work in progress, but ultimately, we have a chance to be pretty good. I like this group.”
According to Petersen, much of the Lancers’ success will hinge on the success of their offense, a group led by junior quarterback LJ Northington.
Surrounding Northington will be a group of skill players that Petersen called “explosive and dynamic,” including senior running back JD PicKell, junior running back Elijah Bynum, sophomore running back Brandon McKinney, senior wide receiver Jaelon Blandburg, and senior fullback Pat Reordan.
“The offense will revolve around LJ,” Petersen said. “He’s a great player. He might be the best quarterback that I’ve ever coached. To me, he’s a bonafide D-1 kid. He doesn’t have a lot of experience, but he’s much better today than last year. He’s a really good leader and a dual threat; he can run it and throw it.
“As far as our skill kids, I would put them, as a whole, up against anybody we play in our league other than Bosco.”
On the defensive side of the ball, Petersen says that the Lancers are a work in progress, but there are players that have the chance to make a big splash this season.
Senior linebacker Keisean Lucier-South is one of, if not the top recruit in Orange County. He recently participated in Nike’s “The Opening” event in Beaverton, Oregon, and plans to play in the U.S. Army All-American Game in January.
Lucier-South, who stands 6-foot-5, 230 lbs, is the No. 28 ranked prospect in the country according to ESPN and the No. 30 prospect, according to Yahoo! Rivals. He has scholarship offers from Alabama, Oregon, Florida, Michigan, Notre Dame, Texas, UCLA, USC, and defending champion Florida State, among others.
Next to Lucier-South, McKinney, who plays safety, will need to step up in a big way if the Lancers hope to be successful on the defensive side of the ball.
“Brandon McKinney will start at safety as a sophomore, and he’s special,” Petersen said. “He has a chance to be our next big time player. Right now, he’s just raw, but the five games before we open league will be big for him. He can be as good as there ever has been here.”
After opening league play with Servite, the Lancers will play at Santa Margarita and at St. John Bosco, before hosting JSerra and Mater Dei to end the regular season.
Petersen isn’t exactly sure what the Lancers will be by the time league play comes around, but he is sure that Servite and St. John Bosco will be the favorites to win the league.
Surprisingly, however, it’s that sense of the unknown that has Petersen excited to see the heights that Orange Lutheran can reach come November.
“I hope to think we’ll play our best football in October and November as opposed to early in the season. That part of it, in one way, worries me, but in another way excites me. I like going into a year that you aren’t sure about that will step up. And you look back at the end of the year and say, ‘Wow.’
“To be able to say that you helped these kids mature spiritually and mentally and physically from where they were to where they are in December, that’s why you coach.”