He examined every imaginable aspect, consulted his coaching staff, even asked his players.
The way Scott Westering saw it, the competition for the starting quarterback job at Pacific Lutheran University was so even between sophomores Dalton Ritchey and Kevin Russell that he didn’t want to leave any stone unturned when making a critical decision.
In the end, Ritchey got the nod.
By a chin strap.
“It was a very, very hard decision,” said Westering, entering his ninth season as the Lutes’ coach. “They both really improved and both did things really well.”
Westering made the call over the weekend to give Ritchey and the first-unit offense all week to prepare for the Lutes’ season opener against No. 11 Cal Lutheran on Saturday at Sparks Stadium.
Ritchey never took a snap at quarterback his freshman year at PLU, but will be the Lutes’ sixth different starting quarterback to open the season in six years.
Until Monday, Ritchey and Russell each had split time at quarterback in preseason camp working with the first-team offense.
“A big part of it also is we didn’t have the luxury of a veteran team on offense,” Westering said. “If we had a veteran team on offense, we probably would have continued to rotate them through this week and make a game-time decision. Because we are pretty young on offense, we just felt to bring stability to that huddle we needed to sit down and sharpen our pencils and look at every aspect.
“It was kind of like grading a math test. At the end of the day, Dalton scored a 91 and Kevin scored a 90.”
When surveyed, players were supportive of either choice, Westering said. Either way, the Lutes figured they were going to be led by a player who brought something unique.
Ritchey offers a dual threat as a runner and thrower, while Russell is more of a pocket passer.
“The guys love, believe and support both of them,” Westering said.
Ritchey, at 6-foot and 190 pounds, is a former three-sport star at Onalaska High School in southwest Washington, and league most valuable player in both football and basketball.
He came to PLU after starting four seasons at quarterback at Onalaska, three times exceeding 1,000 yards passing and 1,000 yards rushing in a single season.
When the Lutes went with senior Zack Halverson at quarterback last season, Ritchey tried out the slot receiver spot – and wound up leading the team with 24 catches, including two touchdowns.
That experience helped him learn the offense and be more prepared to compete at quarterback this season.
“It was a change for sure,” said Ritchey, who had seven catches for 104 yards and two touchdowns against Lewis & Clark. “I never played anything but quarterback. But we were kind of short on some guys. I wanted to help any way I could.”
Ritchey is part of a young PLU offense that is hoping to continue the program’s recent rise under Westering.
The Lutes went 8-1 in 2010 and 6-3 last season, the best two-year stretch since Westering took over as coach from his legendary father, Frosty, in 2004.
Westering said he would prefer to have more experience at the quarterback position and buck the trend of leaning on a newcomer to start the season.
In the past five years, the Lutes have started five quarterbacks in season openers: Brett Gordon in 2007, Michael Byrne in 2008, A.J. Palazzolo in 2009, Jordan Rasmussen in 2010 and Halverson in 2011.
Chad Johnson was the last full-time, three-year starting quarterback for the Lutes (1998-2000).
“It’s always great to have the captain of the ship be more of a veteran guy,” Westering said.
With Ritchey and Russell, the former Timberline High School standout, the Lutes are trying to stabilize the position.
“We kind of have a saying around here: ‘We don’t rebuild, we reload,’” said Court Knoblauch, a senior center at PLU. “That’s what we do. We have a lot of trust in each other. Every year, we have a new No. 1 step up. I trust whoever it is going to be will get the job done.”
Pacific lutheran Lutes
Coach: Scott Westering, ninth season (40-32 record)
Last season: 6-3, 4-2 in NWC (3rd place).
Preseason coaches’ poll: Second place.
Offense: Coordinator (set) – Scott Westering, Trevor Roberts (multiple). Returning starters (6) – LG Chris Edison, 6-0, 275, jr.; WR Daniel Herr, 5-8, 170, so.; RT Kyle Hofmann, 6-4, 300, Sr.; RB Brandon James, 6-1, 205, Sr.; C Court Knoblauch, 5-11, 270, sr.; WR Kyle Warner, 6-3, 205, so.
Defense: Coordinator (set) – Craig McCord (3-4). Returning starters (5) – CB Tayler Angevine, 5-9, 165, sr.; DE Sam Lavis, 6-0, 230, jr.; FS Sean McFadden, 6-1, 195, jr.; ILB Jordan Patterson, 6-2, 240, jr.; NG Mychael Tuiasosopo, 6-0, 270, jr.
Skinny: It is almost inconceivable to believe 2001 was the last time the Lutes won an NWC title and advanced to the playoffs. The next few weeks could go far in determining if that streak ends with games against No. 11 Cal Lutheran, No. 14 Redlands and No. 5 Linfield, also the defending conference champion. Dalton Ritchey earned the quarterback job in an all-sophomore battle with Kevin Russell, and he has something Zack Halverson did not have in 2011 – speedy deep threats. Kellen Westering, the coach’s son who missed last season with hamstring issues, is back. He and Warner should win plenty of one-on-one matchups down the field, and will likely benefit from former NFL receiver Dane Looker being on the coaching staff. But defense is what should keep the Lutes on track. The two- and three-year starters are a year older in McCord’s 3-4 zone blitz scheme. They hit hard, force turnovers and play with a chip on their shoulders. The middle of the field will be patrolled by underclassmen, with Tuiasosopo on the line, Patterson and Dalton Darmody at inside linebacker and McFadden and Greg Hibbard at safety.
Schedule: Saturday vs. California Lutheran, 12:30 p.m.; Sept. 15 at Redlands (Calif.), 7 p.m.; Sept. 29 vs. Linfield (Ore.), 12:30 p.m.; Oct. 6 at Lewis & Clark (Ore.), 1 p.m.; Oct. 13 at Pacific (Ore.), 1 p.m.; Oct. 20 vs. Willamette (Ore.), 12:30 p.m.; Oct. 27 at Puget Sound, 1 p.m.; Nov. 3 vs. Whitworth, 12:30 p.m.; Nov. 10 at Menlo (Calif.), noon.Todd Milles, staff writer