Under head coach Jason Gesser, the football program became known for its up-tempo offense that was not averse to putting up point totals north of 40. New Crusaders coach Jeremy Thielbahr wants to extend that up-tempo philosophy to the defensive side of the ball.
"You're going to see a change of culture a little bit around here," Thielbahr said. "Defense is going to played at a much higher tempo and at a much higher level than it has in the past."
Thielbahr is taking over a team that finished 6-4 in 2010. Eastside Catholic had no problem putting points on the board, averaging over 39 points per game. But the Crusaders were just as apt at giving up big point totals, three times surrendering 45 points or more (Eastside did post two shutouts in 2010, but those came against teams that finished a combined 1-18 for the year, including Rainier Christian which scored just 21 points all season).
Thielbahr has brought in an old friend to help with the problem, hiring former Montana State University defensive coordinator Rob Christoff at the same position for Eastside Catholic. Christoff has installed a system that will rely heavily on mixed attacking schemes, designed to create turnovers.
"He's done a great job of molding this defense and getting these guys to buy in and talking about turnovers and stripping the ball and getting interceptions and attacking on defense," Thielbahr said of Christoff.
Depth is always an issue with the Crusaders, but the Eastside Catholic defense will be anchored by a group of returning senior starters, including linebackers Anthony Roy and Joe Stoutt. Overall, Eastside Catholic will return nine starters from the 2010 team that allowed an average of 18.4 points per game.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Crusaders should have no problem replicating the success of 2010. Metro offensive player of the year Chevy Walker is back to running back. Walker racked up 939 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground last season and also caught 22 passes for 352 yards.
Trey Reynolds will also be back at quarterback for his junior season. As a sophomore, Reynolds proved to be a dual-threat, passing for 16 touchdowns against just five interceptions and rushing for six more.
"I think offensively, we're going to be very strong," Thielbahr said.
Thielbahr said how far his team goes this season will come down to how well the group deals with adversity.
"The ability to overcome adversity is going to be at the center point of whether we're going to be successful or not," Thielbahr said. "There's things that are going to go wrong in a football game and whether our leadership and our team community can overcome those things, will determine whether or not we have a successful season."
Eastside Catholic fans have become used to seeing the Crusaders put up plenty of points over the last few seasons. With a new coach and new system, they could see a group that takes away just as many points.
Eastside Catholic opens the season at home against Cleveland on Sept. 2 at 7 p.m.