Breakout candidate? Sontra gives Pacific Lutheran University a tall presence at tight end

If a silver lining existed in Pacific Lutheran’s final football game of last season, it was the play of tight end Lucas Sontra.

The Lutes were beaten by Linfield, 42-21, in the first round of last year’s NCAA Division III playoffs in McMinnville, Oregon. Once again, turnovers played a huge role in their demise.

But Sontra played like a man with his hair on fire, catching all three of PLU’s touchdowns, and also registering the team’s longest play from scrimmage — a 72-yard catch to start the second half.

“I guess I showed,” Sontra said, “that maybe I had a little more potential than maybe some thought.”

In 2014, expect lots and lots of offense coming from the Lutes with 10 returning starters. Sontra, a part-timer last season, is the lone player stepping into a full-time starting role for the first time.

Coach Scott Westering said in his 33 years on staff, he’s never had a tight end as imposing as Sontra, who is 6-foot-6, 250 pounds and towers over defenders to catch passes. And that praise comes from a guy who knows the position —Westering is a former NAIA All-American tight end himself at PLU.

“He is a special talent,” PLU offensive coordinator Trevor Roberts said. “And I don’t think he’s been unleashed yet.”

Unleashed? No. Unnoticed? Not anymore.

At Everett High School, Sontra was always tall, but rail-thin. On the football team, he was listed as a tight end, but always split out to play wide receiver.

“I was abysmal in blocking,” Sontra said. “Honestly, coming to PLU, I had no expectations being on the field. I was an average high school player, I would say.”

But he joined high school teammate Spencer McKinnon on the Lutes, got into the weight room immediately and started filling out his massive frame.

Even in limited playing time, Sontra has always shown a knack for scoring touchdowns. He scored on his first catch in his first game in 2011 — a 3-yard touchdown in a 27-0 non-conference victory over Hamline University of Minnesota.

Over the past three seasons, Sontra has tallied 12 career touchdown catches, second on his team only to all-Northwest Conference receiver Kyle Warner (20).

The Lutes hope this is the season he turns the corner as a reliable blocker in the run and pass game. Jim Sutrick, a former coach at Foster High School, was added to the staff last season to work with tight ends. Sutrick also coached tight ends as an assistant at Kentwood High School.

“All we’ve done is work on footwork, and Lucas has been a good student,” Sutrick said. “It’s been working on the seal block and the drive block. I mean, Scott likes to throw the ball, but he understands the run side of it, too.

“As far as potential ... (Sontra) has everything — smarts, great size and great hands. He is very coachable, which I really, really like. He has all the characteristics to be great.”

Can Sontra come in and catch 40 passes, score 10 touchdowns and be not only a regular presence on the field but the Lutes, but an all-NWC performer? Roberts and Westering certainly think it’s possible — so much that the Lutes are expected to employ fewer four-receiver sets in favor of more three-receiver sets with Sontra at tight end.

“I know coaches have been proud of the way I’ve made plays,” Sontra said. “I’ve shown I am capable of being one of those players. We have so many guys who can make great plays, this is going to be a tough offense to stop.”