Arlen (AJ) Harris Jr., is a force to be reckoned with on the gridiron and in the classroom.
The 5-foot-11, 201-pound senior at Lutheran St. Charles has chosen Stanford as his college choice. A 4.0 student, Harris is also regarded as one of the best running backs in the nation.
“I’m just expecting him to put an exclamation mark on his career,” said Arlen Harris Sr., his father and head coach, who played for the St. Louis Rams. “He can finish up from last year. He has a lot of aspirations for this season. He wants to finish healthy. He wants to heave his mark on our school. He holds a few records and I know he’d like to add to that.”
Last season, Harris rushed for 834 yards and 14 touchdowns in eight games. He was named a Class 2 all-state first-team selection by the Missouri Football Coaches Association. As a sophomore, he rushed 168 times for 1,763 yards for an average of 10.5 yards per carry. He scored 32 touchdowns and was named the Archdiocesan Athletic Association Small Division’s Offensive Player of the Year.
In his three seasons at Lutheran St. Charles, Harris has gained 3,636 yards rushing and scored 71 touchdowns.
“I train all our guys to be complete backs,” Harris Sr. said. “This year, I feel he’ll be a bigger threat in the passing game. He blocks well. He wants to have that third gear once he’s out there in the open. His vision is so good and he had a high IQ on the football field. He just has a few things to clean up.”
Having his college choice made is a good thing, his father said. He had received about 30 Division I scholarship offers.
“That’s huge. AJ is one of those kids who doesn’t really like the attention to be honest,” Harris Sr. said. “He wants to be challenged in the classroom and on the field and Stanford is a great place for that. You could see that weight lifted off his shoulders when he had decided.”
Here’s a look at some of the other players that St. Charles County head coaches expect to see big things from this fall. The schools are listed in alphabetical order.
Junior defensive end/running back/wide receiver Jamond Mathis is a three-year starter. The 6-foot-3, 230-pound Mathis has four Division 1 offers. As a sophomore, Mathis had 48 tackles, 15 sacks and five fumble recoveries. He also rushed for 445 yards and scored 11 total touchdowns. In 2020, he was a first-team Archdiocesan Athletic Association (AAA) all-conference and a Class 2 first-team all-state defensive end. “He is an outstanding student and athlete,” coach Charlie Elmendorf said. “He is a leader on and off the field.”
Senior linebacker/running back Nathan DeGuentz is a four-year starter on the varsity squad. As a junior, he recorded 113 tackles with four sacks and one interception for a defense that allowed only 14.9 points per game. DeGuentz was named an AAA first-team all-conference linebacker and was voted to the second-team Class 2 all-state team. “Nathan is an outstanding student and leader on our football team,” Elmendorf said.
Junior wide receiver/safety Amorion Oliphant is a three-year, two-way starter and kick and punt returner. “He is an exciting and explosive player we are expecting big things from in 2021,” Elmendorf said. “Amorion has great speed and quickness, as well as, great ball skills.”
FORT ZUMWALT NORTH
Senior Jalen Lee is a 6-foot, 185-pound cornerback who has verbally committed to South Dakota State. A three-year starter, he recorded 41 tackles and had a fumble recovery last season. He is expected to play a role as a running back on the offensive side of the ball this season.
Senior quarterback/defensive back Chris Reckel had 48 tackles playing defense last season. He also was the backup quarterback.
Senior lineman (OL/DL) Andrew Hoppe is 6-foot-2, 190-pound athlete who plays well on both sides of the ball.
FORT ZUMWALT WEST
Mikey Ludwig is a 5-foot-10, 180-pound junior. He is a returning starter at quarterback and is a returning team captain. Last year as a sophomore, Ludwig threw for 650 yards and ran for another 200. “Mikey has made significant strides coming into this year as a passer and has shown great command of the offense,” coach Ben Pike said. “We are also looking for him to make a difference on the defensive side of the football at the safety position.”
Kyle Nunn is a 5-foot-7, 170-pound junior. He is a returning starter at running back. In eight games as a sophomore, Nunn rushed for 1,016 yards. “Kyle has great vision, runs hard and is able to get the most out of any run,” Pike said. “He has continued to improve this offseason, and we are going to need him to have a big year if we are going to be successful this season.”
Peyton Kraus is a 5-foot-7, 155-pound junior. He was the leading receiver last year as a sophomore. “He will be key for us as we look to keep defenses honest. He is very skilled at finding holes in the defense and exploiting them,” Pike said. “On top of that, he runs really good routes, has great hands and rarely drops a ball. I look for Peyton to come up with big catches all season long. He is a gamer.”
Matt Stano is a 6-foot-1, 240-pound senior returning offensive lineman. Last year, he played both center and tackle and will be doing the same thing again this year. “Matt has great feet and technique that allows him to block defensive linemen that are both bigger and more athletic than he is,” Pike said. “He is the leader of our offensive line. As he goes so will our offensive line.”
Adian Copeland is a 5-foot-11, 190-pound junior who started as a sophomore last year at the safety position. He will be making a position change to linebacker this year. He is coming off a year where he recorded 50 tackles and had one interception. “Aiden has great football instincts and plays fast and tough,” Pike said. “I look for him to be the anchor of our defense this year.”
Junior Brett Norfleet is a 6-foot-7, 230-pound tight end/defensive end who has multiple offers from Power 5 football schools. He started for the Vikings as a freshman. He has good hands, is physical and plays fast. He’s also a good blocker as well as a talented baseball player as a pitcher and first baseman.
“He’ll be pretty special at tight end and defensive end for us,” coach Brent Chojnacki said. “He’s truly a tight end that college coaches will look and want to play for them. He’s an extension of the offensive line but we can split him out, too. He’s really good at getting extension with that wingspan on defense. He’s a run stopper but he can put pressure on the quarterback. He’s a phenomenal kid on top of all that, too. He’s a humble kid who will have a bright future in football or baseball.”
Senior TJ Houston is a 6-foot-2, 220-pound offensive and defensive lineman with a 4.5 GPA. He’s a three-year starter and a first-team all-conference player last season. He is just 16 and won’t turn 17 until Halloween.
“He’s a grade ahead,” Chojnacki said. “He really gets after it on the field. He’s a smart kid, a physical kid. He may be a little undersized on the offensive line but he makes up for it with his athletic ability.” Last spring, Houston played volleyball and ran the hurdles and triple jump in track. “I could talk for days about this kid.”
Josh Deal is a 6-foot, 200-pound junior kicker. Last year, he hit 52 of 53 extra points and kicked one field goal. He averaged 57.4 yards on his kickoffs. As a freshman, he averaged nearly 57 yards per kickoff and converted 55 extra-point kicks and made five field goals.
“He’s a guaranteed touchback kid,” Chojnacki said. He was first-team all-conference kicker and Class 6 second-team all-state. “He has a strong leg. His commitment level to being a great kicker is strong. Before our morning workout sessions, he shows up at 7 a.m. to start before we begin at 8. He’ll help us at running back and in the secondary. He doesn’t just specialize in kicking (but) that foot of his is pretty special. He’s a valuable asset to us and we’re glad to have him for two more years.”
FRANCIS HOWELL NORTH
Senior lineman (OL/DL) Jaiden Frey was the team’s most valuable lineman last season. He will be a two-year starter on the offensive line and looks to play defensive line this year as well. He also wrestles during the winter.
“Jaiden has come so far in the past couple of years. He was a workhorse in the off season, and continually works to perfect his craft,” coach Brett Bevill said. “He is a leader on the offensive line and looks to do the same on defensive line. We have big expectations for Jaiden this year.”
Junior wide receiver/running back/defensive back Ian Kelly caught 25 passes last season for 362 yards with five touchdowns. He averaged 15 yards a catch. He will be a two-year starter on offense and defense. He was named first-team all-district at receiver last season and looks to play running back and as a defensive back as well this season. Kelly also runs hurdles for the track team.
“Ian has put in an immense amount of work this offseason. He is bigger, faster, and stronger,” Bevill said. “He continues to impress with his ability on the field and leadership off the field. We are going to expect a lot out of Ian and we are excited to have him.”
Senior linebacker/tight end Lucas Neuschwander had 38 tackles last season with five going for a loss along with three sacks. He was named a first-team all-district linebacker last season and looks to play tight end as well this season. He will be a three-year starter on defense.
“Lucas has a nose for the ball and arrives at it in a bad mood,” Bevill said. “He has a motor and is a leader for us on defense. We expect him to make a lot of calls and adjustments when needed. He has also been doing very well at tight end during camp. We are excited for Lucas’ senior season and expect him to be a leader on defense for us.”
Senior wide receiver Jackson Smith caught 59 passes for 714 yards and 12 touchdowns last season. He also rushed for 198 yards with four touchdowns. He earned a Class 6 first-team all-state selection for his production for the 8-2 Indians. He possesses good speed with a 4.52-second, 40-yard time. He had 24 receptions for 338 yards and three touchdowns as a freshman and raised those totals in a big way as a sophomore, hauling in 55 catches for 1,029 yards and 10 touchdowns to lead Holt to its first winning campaign since 2012.
Senior quarterback Cooper Brown completed enjoyed a solid campaign last year. He completed 124 of 181 passes for 2,057 yards with 32 touchdowns. He was intercepted six times. Brown was a Class 6 second-team all-state selection. As a junior, Brown hit 84 of 149 passes for 1,356 yards and 13 touchdowns against four interceptions.
Senior wide receiver/linebacker Collin Bunner caught 32 passes for 765 yards last fall. He scored 14 total touchdowns. On defense, Bunner recorded 60 tackles, including 11 for a loss. He intercepted one pass and recovered a fumble. He registered three sacks.
Senior linebacker (OL) Austin Bone was a big force on the line for the Indians. He blocks well in both the running and passing game.
LUTHERAN ST. CHARLES
Senior Aaron Coffee is a four-year starter at quarterback. The 6-foot-5, 220-pound Coffee completed 70 of 119 passes for 1,067 yards and 10 touchdowns. He had three interceptions. As a sophomore, he completed 124 of 191 passes for 2,020 yards and 18 touchdowns against six interceptions. He threw for 1,362 yards and 14 touchdowns as a freshman with nine interceptions.
“I call him my ‘big man,’” coach Arlen Harris Sr. said. “He’s old school. He’s a true pocket quarterback who can make all the throws. That’s my thing. He’s not the fastest but he’s so big and smart and intelligent and as he goes we go. He came out on fire as a freshman and sophomore. He looks amazing so far this year. He’s a good ‘no sir, yes sir’ type of kid. He’s kind of quiet but when he says something on the field, our kids listen.”
Senior Ashtin Rustemeyer is a 6-foot-3, 290-pound defensive and offensive lineman. He has orally committed to Arkansas State. Last season, he recorded a team-high six sacks. He registered 14 tackles for losses.
“He’s just a brute on both sides of the ball,” Harris said. “He can take the team on his back. He’s still growing, too. He’s just tenacious. His first step, and how he’s engaged and sets off blocks, makes him a handful. He’s always fighting a double team. He’s a big run stopper for us. He creates havoc out there. He’s a good student and a well-rounded young man. Ashtin is a passionate kid who cares about this teammates.”
Senior lineman (OL/DL) Gabe Schauman, 6-foot-1, 245 pounds, will be a three-year starter for the Eagles. He paved the way for more than 2,000 yards rushing as a junior and looks to pick up where he left off. He can do everything on the offensive line and runs extremely well. Defensively, he looks to use his quickness to make plays in opponents’ backfields. Schauman earns first-team all-Gateway Athletic Conference North offensive and defensive line as a junior.
“Gabe will be one of our leaders this season,” coach Blake Arnette said. “He has been a tremendous leader this offseason, and we look for him to have a great senior year.”
Senior quarterback/defensive back Bryce Westerfeld will be a three-year starter for the Eagles. The 6-foot-1, 190-pound athlete has played receiver previously but is making the switch to quarterback this season. Westerfeld is a smart and disciplined player who will look to use his strengths to lead the offense. Defensively, he will look to be a presence in the run and pass game. His combination of size and speed allows him to do a little of everything for the defense. He also serves as the Eagle’s long snapper and earned first-team all-GAC North honors at wide receiver and defensive back last season.
“Bryce is a great leader for our program and is the type of player that can do a little bit of everything,” Arnette said. “We look for Bryce to have a great year on both sides of the ball this season.”
Senior running back/linebacker Laterrion West will be a two-year starter for the Eagles. The 5-foot-8, 190-pound West has great speed and is a physical runner who is looking to pick up where he left off as a junior. He had multiple games in which he rushed for more than 200 yards and compiled more than 1,000 yards last season. He will also play linebacker this season. He looks to use his talents to help make plays in opponents’ run games. He earned first-team all-GAC North honors at running back last season.
“Laterrion has had a great offseason,” Arnette said. “He has improved greatly on both sides of the ball and we look for him to make an impact each week.”
Senior Marquis Gracial is a 6-foot-4, 315-pound athletic defensive lineman/tight end. He is a two-time all-Gateway Athletic Conference North player at the defensive line. However, he does play both sides of the ball.
“Marquis was limited in gameplays due to an injury last year,” said coach Robert Leonard.
In four games, he was able to contribute 17 tackles, including eight tackles for a loss along with three sacks and two forced fumbles. On offense, he had four catches and one touchdown. Gracial currently holds 26 Division I scholarship offers that include Missouri, Alabama, Oklahoma, Penn State, Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska, Texas, Texas A&M, Iowa State, Mississippi, Auburn and others. He has orally committed to attend Missouri next fall.
Gracial was an all-academic GAC member and recorded a 4.0 GPA last semester. “Marquis is focused on his senior year and does not allow the recruiting process to distract him from focusing on team goals,” Leonard said.
A.J. Hawkins is a returning second-team all-GAC North performer from last year despite sustaining an injury that limited his games played. The 6-foot-2, 285-pound Hawkins plays on the offensive and defensive lines for the Pirates. Last season, he had 26 tackles with seven going for losses with three sacks. He is a three-year starter for the Pirates and is drawing interest from D-1 and D-2 programs.
“He has been and will be a key element for the Pirates this fall,” Leonard said. “If both Marquis and A.J. can stay healthy, they present a tremendous one and two punch combination for St. Charles High.”
Senior Ryan Schwendeman is a 6-foot-4 and 235-pound tight end/H-back/defensive end. He caught 48 passes for 660 yards and scored nine total touchdowns last season. He made 46 tackles with five tackles for loss along with two sacks and an interception at linebacker. He was a Class 4 all-state second-team selection by the Missouri Football Coaches Association.
“Ryan is a physical matchup nightmare as a hybrid tight end. He earned second-team all-state football and all-state basketball honors as a junior,” coach Blake Markway said. “He led the St. Louis area in receiving yards as a tight end and was recently ranked as one of the top 5 basketball players in his class in the St. Louis area to give you an idea of his athletic ability and versatility. While he is extremely skilled in basketball, he is a football player and plays the game with that toughness.”
Markway said Schwendeman is very gifted athletically at his size with a frame to play in college as a tight end, at 255 to 265 pounds, that can play on the line, in the slot, or flank out wide.
“We use him in all three of those roles in our zone-based, RPO scheme,” Markway said. “Ryan plays with tremendous physicality on both sides of the ball as you’ll see from his defensive line film in our spill scheme and as a blocker in the box on offense. He may be the most talented football prospect to come out of our program with his physical gifts at his size.”
Schwendeman has football offers from several D-I schools entering his senior year.
Senior Cam Whitt is a 6-foot-4, 225-pound tight end/H-back. He has college offers at the Division II level entering his senior year.
“We are fortunate to have two big tight ends in our offense that have started since their first game as sophomores,” Markway said. “Cam plays closer to the box than Ryan if we are trying to run a more traditional tight end set, but we will often still use him flanked out as he has great ball skills and is a big target in the middle of the field. He can easily take over a game with his receiving skills as he proved in Week 9 last season with 160 yards and three touchdowns.”
The Crusaders run a zone-blocking scheme coordinated by Hall of Famer Jim Schottmueller, Markway said.
“Cam is very sound, physical and versatile in this scheme. His athletic ability and agility as a big guy in the box really allow us to do some great things with his skill set in both the run and pass game to find mismatches,” Markway said.
Junior Jackson Overton is a 5-foot-7, 150-pound running back. He earned third-team all-state honors last season.
“Jackson is the only freshman in my 20 years of coaching to start varsity,” Markway said. “And not only start but then go on and earn first-team all-conference honors with over 1,000 total yards. He is dynamic with 4.5 speed that he clocked at several college camps this summer. He has the best vision of any zone back I’ve coached. He followed up a stellar freshman season with an even better sophomore season with more than 1,500 total yards.
“To counter his size, he makes up for it with all-American standards in his core lifts,” Markway said. “Not only is he the fastest player on the field every week, he is pound for pound also the strongest with the toughness to run between the tackles. While we have used Jackson mostly as a true tailback his first two seasons due to depth at the position. We plan to use him equally as much as a slot receiver as an upperclassman to continue to get him out in space with his skill set where he could be most dangerous at the next level.”
Senior running back/defensive back Jay Harris gained 302 yards last season rushing with two touchdowns. He also caught two passes for 58 yards and a touchdown. On defense, he recorded 30 tackles with two fumble recoveries and one interception.
Senior lineman (OL/DL) Andrew Bontrager will be counted on to play well on both sides of the ball this season.
Junior quarterback/defensive back AJ Raines threw for 250 yards last year when he completed 16 of 31 passes. He had four touchdowns and one interception. He gained 118 yards on 48 carries and scored two touchdowns. On defense, he recorded 22 tackles, including three for a loss.