Football 2014: Andover Trojans
When he heard the question, Kenton Criser paused. He tried to be polite, but stern.
The mention of taking a step back, of going back to how things used to be with the Andover football team, just isn’t really something that’s talked about in his circle. Much less worried about.
“There’s not a fear of ever taking a step back, no,” said Criser, a senior wingback and defensive back. “What we’re thinking about is taking a step forward.”
The step the Trojans are trying to make is a big one — one that would put them among the state’s elite teams in Class 5A.
After going 1-8 in 2011, Andover went 8-3 in 2012 before losing to Carroll in the state quarterfinals. Last season, the Trojans’ were 9-0 before getting rocked by Salina Central, 48-12, in the first round.
“There’s levels to this,” Andover coach Mike Lee said. “The last two years, our season has ended against elite teams ... now we needed to make that next step. A big part of that has been the commitment to the offseason, to the weight room, which we’ve done.
“Another part is between the ears. The players need to think we can compete with those teams. If you go back three or four years ... there’s no way.”
The Trojans became media darlings last season, thanks to then-sophomore Eli Renoux’s dazzling punt return for a touchdown against Campus in the season opener, making it all the way to No. 1 on ESPN “SportsCenter’s” top plays.
They’ll have much of the same team back this year, including Renoux, along with starting quarterback Coen Rasmussen, Criser, senior defensive end Dante Butler (6-foot-3, 220 pounds) and senior linebacker Landon Lawson (6-1, 210), a three-year starter.
“At some point the players have to take over, they have to take over in a voluntary setting,” Lee said. “And that’s happening, they appear to be taking ownership of their team, of their season. Our other senior classes that have had success, we’ve seen them do that.”
The road to the playoffs will also be much tougher — Andover enters a new district with Heights, Kapaun and Emporia.
A LOOK AT ANDOVER
Coach: Mike Lee, eighth season, 43-27
League: AV-CTL Division II
Last season: 9-1, lost in first round of 5A playoffs
Last five seasons: 29-21
Projected 2014 playoff team? Yes
TOP SKILL PLAYERS
|Sept. 12||at Andover Central|
|Sept. 19||Arkansas City|
|Sept. 26||at Valley Center|
|Oct. 3||Salina South|
|Oct. 10||at Goddard|
|Oct. 24||Kapaun (at WSU)|
Kenton Criser on his team
What Andover does well: “Our offense is going to be a five- or 10-yard-at-a-time team. There won’t be a ton of huge plays, but we can grind it out.”
What Andover has to improve: “Defense is what we need to focus on. We’re not expected to make huge plays. Defense needs to step up.”