Trojans take a Swiss Army Knife approach for ‘24

Valley Christian football coach Jake Petersen witnessed something special in 2023. Having replaced 10 of 11 starters on offense and nine of 11 starters on defense, Petersen’s Trojans marched to an unexpected 11-2 overall record with a semifinals appearance.

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His team wasn’t the most talented, but it had leaders, he said.

“Anyone that looked at our team from the year before, everybody thought we were going to be down, you know. They thought we were going to be more like a 500 team,” Petersen said. “We ended up being better. We had a couple of guys that were leaders that stepped up to hold kids accountable to a standard that nobody wanted to let one another down. “When you don’t have coaches that are just holding kids to a standard—the players themselves are holding them to a standard—it makes a bigger difference than some of the skills and the X’s.”

Now, a year later with a handful of returners, Petersen is looking for his team to lean into that experience and improve on last year’s success on the gridiron. Part of that process is tapping into the strength of the offensive and defensive lines, with quarterback Gunnar Link, tight end Cole Bastian and receiver and middle linebacker Caleb Lewis having graduated.

Link threw for over 3,300 yards and 44 touchdowns last season. Bastian accounted for nearly 500 yards and eight total touchdowns, while Lewis registered 971 all-purpose yards with 11 total touchdowns and recorded a team-leading 10.4 tackles per game. Quarterback, the natural leadership position on the team, is now void and a battle for true starter is underway. With that, Petersen says that the team won’t be as quarterback-centered to mitigate stress.

To most, that can cause sleepless nights. For Petersen? That excites him.

“In a lot of aspects, your quarterback goes down and you’re out of luck . Because of what we have up front, we’re going to rotate four different guys, probably at running back throughout the season. So, I think we’re pretty deep there. Our offensive line is actually pretty deep as well, but that’s, I think, the thing we’re most excited about. We don’t have just one guy that, if that guy gets injured or if another team tries to take that away, we’ve got a lot of options.

“We’re not a one trick pony where people can try and take one thing away, and then, you know, we’re stuck. So, I think our ability to adapt to whoever we’re playing is going to be the biggest benefit for us.”

The Trojans are also returning roughly 26 juniors, says Petersen. Among that group is receiver Asher Hanzal, who logged 63 receptions for 901 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2023. Petersen had high praise for his wideout, who he believes will help the run game by drawing double coverage. With varsity experience and returning playmakers, Petersen is looking for another deep run in the 3A conference—one that may end with hardware and rings.

Andrew Lwowski is the Associate Publisher for Wrangler News. Have a story idea? Email him at or follow him on X @Andrew_Lwowski



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