Matt Shoultz played high school football for four seasons at Louisa-Muscatine in the 1980s, he was an assistant coach at Muscatine for 10 seasons and is preparing to wrap up his first season as Louisa-Muscatine’s head coach.
When he watches his sophomore quarterback, Chase Kruse, lead an inexperienced Falcons offense on Friday nights, he sees a talented kid who’s a quick learner but still has room to grow.
“Coming from Muscatine, I’ve been around a lot of good quarterbacks, seen a lot of talented kids from the area throw the ball,” Shoultz said. “As a sophomore, I think (Kruse) has the potential to be right up there with some of the best of them.”
The nerves competing in his first game as the starting quarterback at home against Mid-Prairie on Aug. 25 were inevitable.
Kruse had shown potential as a freshman a year earlier, but only a small sample as the backup to senior Jake Hillard. Kruse attempted nine total passes, four of them completions, but threw for 107 yards and a team-best 26.8 yards per completion.
While the sophomore admitted to a being a little jittery heading into this fall’s season opener, he still managed to complete 10 of 17 passes for 109 yards while picking up 46 yards and a touchdown on 16 rush attempts in the 42-12 loss.
“I was more ready to play than anything,” Kruse said.
As a first-year starter, Kruse has not only been tasked with learning the game but learning it alongside the kids blocking in front of him.
Working with a makeshift unit up front, Shoultz has had to play mostly freshmen on his offensive line at times throughout the season.
“To Chase’s credit, we probably haven’t had the same five starters in the lineup two times in a row,” Shoultz said. “Against Highland (last Friday), we had a kid playing right guard who had never even played offensive line before. We threw him in there (last) Wednesday and he started for us on Friday.”
The inconsistencies have yet to rattle Kruse, who has regularly shown progression over the team’s recent 3-3 stretch after starting the season 0-2.
He has the highest completion percentage (62.2) among quarterbacks in Class 1A District 4 who have attempted at least 50 passes. He’s also collected 1,885 total yards of offense, 1,388 through the air and another 497 on the ground, in addition to 21 total touchdowns.
“I think at the beginning of the year he wasn’t reading at all, he was just relying on instinct and just throwing it,” Shoultz said. “Now he’s settled down a little bit and he’s able to make the reads. He’s not anywhere near perfect, but he’s made some vast improvements in that area.”
Everything fell in place for Kruse in a 38-28 win last Friday at Highland. The sophomore completed 17 of 24 passes for 210 yards and three scores. He also carried the ball 27 times for 148 yards and a touchdown.
“After the game I told our coaches that we wouldn’t have won the game without him,” Shoultz said. “He took control in the fourth quarter when we needed it and he made plays that pretty much salted the game away. Our defense was hurting a little bit there at the end, and he kind of took control and put the game away for us.
“He made a couple mistakes, a couple bad reads, but he was able to overcome that. And that’s something else he’s learned, he knows how to fight through adversity and knows how to overcome those bad plays and move on.”
Kruse, meanwhile, credited the strong performance to the players surrounding him.
“Just the line blocking well, giving me time in the pocket, and the receivers being able to get open and making plays,” he said.
The future is bright for a Louisa-Muscatine squad that features 17 underclassmen and one of the best young quarterbacks in the district.
“I don’t know where (Kruse) is going to end up, it’s all up to him,” Shoultz said. “If he wants to work hard at it, I think you’re going to see some pretty great things out of him.”