NEW ULM - The Martin Luther College Knights return some key players from last year's 4-6 campaign with 10 back on defense and eight on offense.
Returning on defense are ends Ben Ewings, who set a school record with 11 sacks, including four in one game and Ben Hansen who totaled 67 tackles. Linebacker Nick Kressin is also back for the Knights.
"He is as good as any linebacker in this league," said coach Doug Lange. "And Ewings was first team All-Upper Midwest Athletic Conference. Ben is a senior who brings great leadership."
Luke Rothe returns at quarterback. He passed for 1,803 yards and 18 touchdowns last season and also ran for 1,010 yards and nine touchdowns.
"He is the Johnny Manziel of the UMAC," Lange said.
Matt Olson will hold down one running back spot after carrying the ball for 710 yards and nine touchdowns before getting hurt.
"Athletically those two guys are key for us offensively," Lange said. "We need to control the ball. We are one of the smallest teams number-wise in all of D-III.
"We have 46 players out for football and the median number for D-III is 110 players. In the UMAC only one team - MacMurray - has a similar number of players out for football. St. Scholastica has 129 players."
Lange said it's important for the Knights to play smart.
"There are 238 D-III teams and we are either the smallest one or the second-smallest one. So we need to control the game from a clock management standpoint and a ball-control standpoint."
Lange said that the formula is simple for the success of his team.
"We need to control the ball offensively and our defense has to make key stops," Lange said.
And more important, with the numbers that the Knights have, they need to stay injury-free.
"If we have injuries that will hurt us," Lange said. "We have good starting groups and guys who can step up. We take great care in practice to limit contact. We can't hurt each other in practice. But it is still football and that is still a huge question mark."
The Knights have been tabbed eighth in the UMAC preseason poll.
"We were tied for fifth last year and we have as many or more players coming back than any other team, I think that people look at our lack of numbers," Lange said "But we will be one of the toughest outs in this league."