Marquette linebacker Preston Aukland wrestles down Orangeville running back Chase Jordan (7) during their 2018 1A playoff game at Gould Stadium.
Marquette linebacker Preston Aukland wrestles down Orangeville running back Chase Jordan (7) during their 2018 1A playoff game at Gould Stadium. — For The Times | Katy Arnold

The future of the Marquette Academy football program is as solid as its ever been, with a string of seven straight winning seasons under head coach Tom Jobst second only to a 10-season string way back from 1976-85, and with several years of talented classes on the horizon.

It’s what’s going on around Marquette that’s creating questions not so much about this year, but down the line.

The exodus of so many small schools either choosing due to low participation to play 8-man football or dropping the sport entirely, the Northeastern Athletic Conference is now down to just five teams, thanks most recently to the withdrawal of Mooseheart and River Valley. With districts looming in 2021, the league may have trouble adding members for that brief window.

Jobst can identify with that pain, as his first Crusaders club when he took more than nine years ago had only 16 players in the entire program. His program has since grown into a picture of consistent winning football, and it appears he has yet another solid ballclub to send onto the field this fall.

“I think our program is in a good place,” said Jobst. “We’re solid. We’re steady. The kids are all in, the coaching staff has been steady, too, and the administration and parents all back us 100 percent, so we have a lot of things going for us that a lot of places might not.

“Some schools have moved on and others won’t know if they will, too, until they see how many show up for the first day of practice. If they don’t have enough, they’ll just shut it down. That’s what’s sad about it, how tough it is to be kids who want to play but don’t have a place to play. We’ve been lucky to have kids that want to play and the support to make that happen, but that’s not true unfortunately in a growing number of places.”

Head coach: Tom Jobst

Last Year’s record: 10-1

Biggest question

Can last year’s back-ups, particularly those in the offensive line, shine with the spotlight on them full-time?

The coming season promises to be somewhat a rebuilding one on the field because of the graduation of a strong, 16-player senior class that includes NAC Offensive Player of the Year and Times Player of the Year Snook, four-year quarterback Logan Komater, tight end Gareth Kent, linemen Christian Reynolds, Jack Durdan and Connor Durdan and DB Evan Green.

There were enough one-sided scores – averages of 37.4 points scores, 4.8 points allowed, six shutouts, five running clocks - in last year’s undefeated regular season to give plenty of snaps to a plethora of back-ups. That, in addition to a strong commitment in the weight room, are two of the things Jobst feels are big factors in the program’s sustained excellence.

Player to watch

There are several, but the most impactful may be junior quarterback Luke Couch and 6-foot-5, 210-pound tight end Victor Mullen, a dynamic passing combination for the undefeated junior varsity squad. Returning fullback Preston Aukland and speedy halfback Shane Reynolds should handle the bulk of the winged-T running game, which was more fullback-heavy until Snook’s dominating season a year ago.

2019 schedule analysis

Though the Cru have eight games scheduled for this fall – plus a forfeit win over late-withdrawing River Valley – it includes second meetings against Hiawatha and Rockford Christian and expiring two-year non-conference contracts with Seneca and Dwight.

Dwight was a 3A playoff club a year ago and Seneca, had it won its Week 9 game, would have been as well, while Rockford Christian made the 2A postseason and Hiawatha the 1A playoffs. Marquette defeated those four by a combined score of 125-7, so getting off to a good start with those three bigger schools in the first five weeks would mean a lot.

Newcomer you need to know

In addition to Couch and Mullen, the transfer of 6-foot-3, 260-pound lineman Caleb Boucher from rival St. Bede Academy to Marquette should boost a revamped but tough offensive front with only one returning starter, 6-foot-5, 225 center John Thompson.

An early take

With Snook’s great season shifting the emphasis from fullback to halfback, the winged-T attack could go either way this fall, thus confounding opposing plans from one game to the next. If the Couch-Mullen connection continues to thrive, the Crusaders’ offense could be every bit as formidable as last season. Defensively, the roster is filled with speed, strength and athleticism, though with somewhat limited varsity experience.

If they continue to adhere to the regime of sound fundamental preparation and versatile game plans laid out by Jobst and his veteran staff, a repeat of last year’s sprint through its schedule is not out of the question, though capped hopefully by a more focused playoff trip.