This is Mike Barthelmess’ second season as the Lawrence University football coach, but it probably feels a lot like starting over again.

The Vikings lost nearly 20 seniors, almost all of which were major contributors, and the coaching staff is almost entirely new as only secondary coach Jeff Jansen returns. The turnover in the coaching staff also hurt recruiting, and the Vikings have only 14 new faces for 2013.

Despite what might seem like long odds for success, Barthelmess has confidence in his players and the coaching staff.

“I know there are people who think we won’t win a game. My expectations are higher than that,” Barthelmess said with a grin.

The Vikings went 2-8 a season ago, but included in that record was a one-point loss, a two-point loss and a four-point loss to conference champion Lake Forest College. With key players back all over the field, the Vikings are being cautiously optimistic.

The offense begins with senior quarterback Luke Barthelmess, the eldest son of the head coach. Luke Barthelmess owns nearly every Lawrence passing record and completed 162 of 304 passes for 2,292 yards, 20 touchdowns and 10 interceptions last season.

While Luke Barthelmess is an accomplished passer with a Lawrence record 6,057 passing yards to his credit, it’s his feet that may make just as big a difference this season.

“It falls on his shoulders,” Mike Barthelmess said of Luke. “We’re going to probably depend more on his legs this year than we have in the past. We’re going to try to make use of his speed.”

Luke Barthelmess ran 125 times for 423 yards, an average of 3.4 yards per carry last season. With running back Ben Hartman lost to graduation, the Vikings are going to lean on new faces in the backfield, including Isaac Barthelmess, the former Appleton North High School standout and Luke’s younger brother.

“We have three strong running backs (Isaac Barthelmess, Dalton Sendelbach and Corey Fischer),” Mike Barthelmess said. “If we can continue to run the football, if we can split the running between Luke and the backfield, that’s going to help our passing game.”

The passing game also took a hit with the graduation of record-setting receiver Tyler Mazur. Lawrence does have experienced receivers in seniors Taylor Mandich and Dan Dubnicka to soften the blow, and the offensive line has three starters returning in tackles Spencer Swick of Kimberly and Luke Zablocki of Pulaski and center Nic Bouressa of Denmark.

While the offense was solid in 2012, the defense struggled and allowed 45.4 points per game. Mike Barthelmess believes the Vikings will improve on defense this season with a new coaching approach and an influx of talented newcomers.

“Everyone is really trying to work together on the defensive staff. I’m certain that we are going to be better on defense this season. That was a main focus going into this season,” Mike Barthelmess said. “The staff is great. I love my staff. It’s really, really fun going to work every day.”

The defense has All-Midwest Conference defensive back Sam Wagner in the secondary and talented linebackers Andy Paider of Denmark and Brandon Taylor. The defensive line will rotate returners Gabor Bukszar and Brady Busha with newcomers Jackson Straughn and Terrence Huff.

“We have a lot of experience coming back on defense,” Mike Barthlemess said. “We’re hoping that is going to be enough to beef up our defense.”

The key for the Vikings may come down to health. With just 39 players on the roster, Lawrence needs to keep its starters and key reserves on the field all season.

“Our whole philosophy from the beginning is we are going to be grateful for who we have,” said Mike Barthelmess, who said he has told the players to be fearless. “We have to make the best of what we have.”

Bushbacher inks deal with Chill

Former Lawrence University hockey standout Phil Bushbacher has signed a contract to play with the St. Charles (Mo.) Chill.

Bushbacher, a forward who graduated in June with a degree in government, becomes the ninth Lawrence player in the last five years to sign a pro contract.

In two seasons at Lawrence, Bushbacher played in 55 games and piled up 26 goals and 20 assists for 46 points. For his career, he played in 106 games with 42 goals and 33 assists for 75 points.

“He pretty much came into camp, and just dominated the camp,” Chill coach Jamie Rivers said. “He was physical, he put a lot of shots on goal, and he scored a lot of goals. He came in as an unknown, and he earned his spot in training camp.”

The Chill, which plays in the Central Hockey League, is one of 10 teams in that conference.

Laursen earns honor

Lawrence cross country standout Jonah Laursen has been named the Midwest Conference Performer of the Week.

Laursen (Traverse City, Mich./West), a sophomore, took second place at this past Saturday’s Tom Barry Invitational at St. Norbert College. Laursen covered the four-mile course at Colburn Park in Green Bay in 20:52.6. He ran nearly a minute faster than he did at the same meet as a freshman in 2012.

Led by Laursen, Lawrence finished fourth in the team standings with 111 points. This marks the first time in his career that Laursen has earned the conference’s weekly honor.

Editor’s Note: Inside LU Athletics is a notes package written by Lawrence University Director of Athletic Media Relations Joe Vanden Acker. It will feature teams and individual players, recap weekly awards or highlights and take a look at what’s ahead for the Vikings.