In football, there are pass catchers and there are playmakers.
Seniors Brennan Schon and Kellen Westering do both, which make them arguably the best wide receivers in the Northwest Conference.
Schon, the standout from the University of Puget Sound, compiles yardage in big chunks. His average of 125.2 receiving yards per game not only leads the league, it ranks seventh nationally in NCAA Division III.
Westering, the grandson of the late legendary Pacific Lutheran coach Frosty Westering, and whose father, Scott Westering, is now the man in charge for the Lutes, makes a football field his acrobatic playground. He catches passes — high, low or on target — for drive-extending plays for PLU.
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“If you talk about one of them, you have to talk about both of them,” UPS coach Jeff Thomas said. “They both have an intuitive way to find the football — and very rarely dropping it.”
Both receivers will be on the same field Saturday for the annual intra-city rivalry game. This one kicks off at Sparks Stadium at 1 p.m.
And if the game is close, just assume that either Schon or Kellen Westering will be right in the middle of the plays that decide the outcome.
SPEED TO BURN
Soccer, not football, was Schon’s sport growing up. For a five-year span, Schon would travel to the west side to play for Washington State Olympic Development Program teams as a member of the Spokane Soccer Academy.
“I never touched a football until my sophomore year of high school,” Schon said.
His ninth-grade chemistry teacher at Lewis and Clark High School was Steve Bennett, a former University of Washington receiver who is now the offensive coordinator for the Tigers. Bennett would watch Schon zigzag through campus, and suggested he try out for the football team.
“I loved it,” Schon said. “I was an aggressive soccer player, always getting fouls and yellow cards. With this, I got a helmet — and in no trouble.”
As an all-Greater Spokane League first-team receiver in his senior season in 2012, Schon set all sorts of receiving records. He chose UPS because he intended to play two sports, football and track and field as a decathlete.
Schon’s breakout season came in 2015, when he was one of 21 receivers in the country to record a 1,000-yard season. His 1,076 yards in nine games is a Loggers’ single-season receiving record.
Officially, his 23.9-yard-per-reception average ranked seventh in the country. But of the receivers who amassed 1,000 yards or more, he topped the list.
“He found a specific role no one else could do — run by everybody,” Thomas said.
Schon wanted to be known as more than just a speedy outside receiver. All offseason, he and UPS quarterback Hans Fortune practiced all the routes from each position within the offense. Now, up to 10 times a game, Schon will line up in the slot and operate in intermediate areas.
“We need to utilize him correctly,” Thomas said. “Everything we’ve asked him to run, he’s done it. He’s our best route runner at the outside receiver position.”
Schon, who was the team’s starting punter and placekicker in the first couple of games, is ahead of last season’s record-setting receiving yardage pace. And his 50 receptions are already a career-high.
“Obviously, my speed has been a big advantage my whole life in any sport,” said Schon, who will graduate with a biology degree and aspires to be an orthodontist. “But you have to find different ways and wrinkles to get open, and not just outrun guys all the time.”
TEST OF FAITH
As a Westering, you grow up around PLU football.
Kellen Westering was a ballboy for the Lutes’ squad that captured the NCAA Division III national championship in 1999 over Rowan University.
And when it came time to choose his own college out of Rogers High School in 2011, he spurned FBS interest to join his father’s team.
A fairy tale experience?
In six years, Westering has endured three knee surgeries, 10 pulled hamstring injuries and constant lower-back pain.
And it all started on the first play of his opening practice in 2011. Going out on a fade route, Westering stretched out for a deep pass and immediately felt his left hamstring give way.
“I can close my eyes and see it all happen,” Scott Westering said.
Kellen Westering redshirted that season, returned to be one of the national leaders in receiving through four games in 2012 before suffering a noncontact, right knee injury going over the middle on a route against Pacific. He finished the season, including the NCAA playoff game against Linfield, playing on a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
He had surgery in late December, then returned to have another injury-plagued season in 2013.
“Many overcompensation injuries,” he said.
His 2013 season ended with a right hamstring injury suffered during practice in late October.
And in 2014, he pulled the right hamstring more severely — higher up in the leg — during another practice.
“That,” he said, “was the worst pain I had ever felt.”
Two arthoscopic surgeries on his right knee wiped out 2015 entirely. He spent that season as a game analyst for the school’s radio station.
Yet after nearly two years off, Westering came into preseason fall camp in August full of hope that he could play a final season.
On the first day, he reinjured his right hamstring, putting his season status in doubt.
This time, Westering got a break. He was granted a quick visit with Dr. Kim Harmon, a team physician at UW. Harmon gave Westering a platelet-rich plasma injection into his hamstring for faster healing.
“I finally had a little bit of luck on my side with the way my body reacted to it,” Westering said.
Westering felt good enough to play in the season opener against California Lutheran. More importantly, as time went on, his leg felt better and better.
But he knows he has to be careful. That is why he’s in the trainer’s room daily an hour before practice for treatment. He gets acupuncture and deep-tissue massage weekly. And he is constantly staying warm on the stationary bike.
“I can never just go run a route,” Westering said.
Yet, Westering has not only been productive on the field — he has a team-high 32 catches for 421 yards and four touchdowns — he’s been the impact player defenses fear.
“He goes such a good job with his route-running. And if it is man coverage, he sets the defensive back up so well to break (the defender) off in the opposite way he goes,” Thomas said. “And you can tell he really wants to win.”
Westering does not harbor any ill will toward how his career has unfolded. He is just thankful for mostly a healthy final season.
“To finally be able to run, you do realize you take it for granted,” said Westering, who plans to pursue a professional career in Europe. “I feel heathier than I ever have.”
PUGET SOUND (3-3, 1-3 NWC) at PACIFIC LUTHERAN (3-3, 2-2)
1 p.m. Saturday, Sparks Stadium, Puyallup
Coaches: Jeff Thomas is in his seventh season at UPS (16-44 record). Scott Westering is in his 13th season at PLU (67-49 record).
Series: UPS leads, 45-40-1. The Lutes had a nine-game winning streak snapped in Tacoma after the Loggers rallied late for a 6-2 victory last season at Baker Stadium. The Lutes have won the past four meetings in Puyallup — the last one a 41-21 victory in 2013. The last road triumph by UPS, 23-13, came in 2005.
Statistical leaders: For UPS — QB Hans Fortune (203 of 323, 2,246 yards, 20 TDs, six INTs), RB Austin Wagner (64 rushes, 336 yards, four TDs), WR Brennan Schon (50 catches, 751 yards, seven TDs) and S Jacob Wuesthoff (68 tackles, one INT). For PLU — QB Jon Schaub (72 of 117, 774 yards, six TDs, two INTs), RB Marc Gallant (71 rushes, 327 yards), WR Kellen Westering (32 catches, 421 yards, four TDs) and S Carson Ketter (63 tackles, one INT).
Injury report: For UPS — LB Will Geary (wrist) and DB Zack Teats (knee) are out. For PLU — QB Schaub (shoulder) and DL Jordan Zimmerman (shoulder) are doubtful.
When the Loggers have the football: This offense, in large or small chunks, is built around Fortune and the passing game. And to move the chains effectively, Fortune needs to get passes out quickly and on the mark, or the disciplined, ball-hawking PLU defense, led by the safety trio of Ketter, Travis McMillion and Derek Chase, is bound to force a turnover or two.
When the Lutes have the football: Perhaps the biggest mismatch is this passing offense against a young UPS secondary, which has given up big play after big play. The questions is, if PLU sophomore QB Cole Chandler starts in place of Schaub, can he hit on a couple of those quick-strike throws with Westering? PLU will give him every chance to do so.
TNT pick: PLU, 38-27.