Crusaders coming into this season healthy and hungry after quarterfinal playoff exit

TIMES PHOTO: VINCE RADOSTITZ - Jesuit junior quarterback Will Spitznagel and the Crusaders will again be one of the favorites to win the Metro League.

No team is unbeatable and few teams can convincingly say they have the horses to win a state championship before they've played a game.

Jesuit head coach Ken Potter will advise any football prognosticator with two ears and a brain of these notions.

The Crusaders' ceiling is a state championship trophy, which would be Jesuit's second in three years. Their floor is first, maybe second place in Metro, if Sunset or another upstart gets rolling. Jesuit hasn't lost a Metro crown since 2012. They've been tested by the likes of Westview in '14 and Beaverton in '16 but never toppled. When polled, not one Metro coach picked against Jesuit to five-peat.

However, with the Crusaders slated as the No. 1 in 6A and the outright Metro favorites, Potter wants to keep the hoopla to a minimum. The 30-year de facto dean of Metro has seen teams rise above the noise or capitulate under it. He's been down this road before many a time. Few seasons go without difficulty. In '13, star running back/linebacker Joey Alfieri broke his leg and missed the second half of the season including the 6A state title game, which Jesuit lost to Central Catholic. Last year, running back/safety Trey Lowe sat out the postseason with an inventory of injuries and Jesuit was again upset by the Rams, this time in the quarterfinals.

Good health and good fortune play just as an important role in a season's fate. All that aside, Jesuit's rich level of talent, experience, and coaching is potent. And their outlook remains unwavering.

"When we talk team goals, I talk about playing 14 games," Potter said. "That should be our goal and it is our goal. That doesn't mean we'll go 14-0. That just means maybe we have the opportunity to play in the state championship game. I think every school has that same goal. It might be unrealistic, but that's what our thought process is. We don't talk about rankings. We talk about how the most important game is the first one of the season. We can't worry so much about our opponents, but we need to worry about ourselves. We have to take care of what we can do. Hype is just that. It doesn't mean anything."

You can start with Lowe, who ran for more than 1,700 yards in just eight games as a junior and nearly won the Metro Offensive Player of the Year award. The 5-foot-10 speed demon can beat almost any defensive back in a foot race with his detonative wheels, but he's also smart, patient, quick and not afraid of contact inside the trenches when the big play isn't available. Fresh off a verbal commitment to the University of Washington last year, Lowe is hankering to play a full season and carry the Crusader load as Jesuit's bell-cow.

"I don't think I'd be very smart if I didn't get the ball in his hands in a variety of different ways," Potter said with a laugh. "He's much stronger than he was a year ago and if anything, he's more explosive. And, he's hungry to play the game of football again."

Senior running back Ennis Ferguson stepped in when Lowe went down last year and proved he's fully skilled enough to warrant a heavy workload. Senior Briceton Branch is another talented weapon who can shoulder the running duties as well. Senior wide receiver Trey Werner started as a junior on the outside. Junior Gary Hollands is a quick, fast threat with nice hands in the passing attack. Senior Zack Jansky is one of the best hurdlers in Metro and will add his athleticism to the wide receiver core. Junior Josh Daul is another athletic wide receiver who will factor into the rotation.

Junior quarterback Will Spitznagel won the starting gig as a sophomore and showed off an accurate, strong right arm capable of getting the ball to the Crusaders' lethal playmakers on target and in position to gets yards after the catch.

"He's a three-sport athlete and a great competitor and a great kid," Potter said. "He's a year stronger and more mature, all the kind of stuff you want to see. We had a lot of high expectations for him last year and we do this year as well."

Senior offensive linemen Travis Spreen played two years at center for the Crusaders, but he's worked at left tackle at times this off-season to improve his versatility for the collegiate level and help fill the void left by graduated first-team all-state senior Jaxson Kirkland.

"He's a very, very fine football player," Potter said. "We're going to count on him to help those around him on the line."

Junior Joe Quillin played a considerable amount on the offensive line as a sophomore and should step into a starting role this fall. Seniors Max Imponenti, Drew Rice and Cam Mahoney and junior Seth Monahan played on the junior varsity team last year, but have improved greatly, according to Potter.

Senior tight end Isaiah Henderson-Brazie is another first-team all-Metro star who had his junior season cut short by injury. When healthy, Henderson-Brazie is a force on offense and defense. As part of Jesuit's double tight-end formation, he's an excellent blocker who selflessly contributes to the run game. As a receiver, Henderson-Brazie is an underrated pass catcher with solid speed and outstanding hands.

"He looks really good," Potter said. "He looks faster than he did a year ago. His speed has improved, that's something we as a staff and he wanted. He has excellent hands and he's one of the best receivers on the team. It's our responsibility to get him the ball in situations where we're throwing. He's a complete overall football player."

Defensively is where Jesuit could set itself apart from both the Metro and state fields.

Branch and Lowe are freaky, long, quick-twitch athletes in the secondary who can play safety or cornerback. Hollands will start at corner, opposite of Branch. Werner and Ferguson can play safety or linebacker and each started last season. Henderson-Brazie, Blake Baldocchi and Zach Carr are all returning starters roaming a linebacking core that's surly and seasoned.

"I like our defense to be aggressive, I like for our kids to be able to run, fly to the football," Potter said. "We don't want to make (defense) too complicated. We have to put them in the right positions and make the adjustments we need to make based on the personnel."

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