By Ryan Murken
Your Prep Sports
WEST BRANCH – Luke Lenoch can rattle off the names at the top of the West Branch all-time rushing list without hesitation.
The interest in the best backs in Bear history isn’t spurred by a quest for personal glory for Lenoch, who is just 237 yards away from becoming the school’s all-time rushing leader. In fact, it’s just the opposite for the humble senior who consistently heaps praise on teammates and is more interested in wins than individual accolades.
Lenoch’s knowledge of the running backs that fill the West Branch record book is out of simple admiration and lots of first-hand knowledge.
“I watched a lot of those guys growing up and just being mentioned up there with any of those guys, those great players that played at West Branch before just means a lot,” Lenoch said. “There have been so many great players here, we have a great tradition so to be included on any list with those players is kind of surreal.”
West Branch senior Luke Lenoch
Growing up Lenoch watched former West Branch all-state running backs like Cole Kelly and Cade Jones rewrite the school’s record books. Entering his senior season Lenoch is on the verge of putting his name on the top of a list of running backs that he grew up emulating on the playgrounds in West Branch.
“I had a Cole Kelly jersey when I was in like second grade and I just thought he was the coolest thing,” Lenoch said. “In my mind he was like a pro football player.”
The player that Lenoch grew up wanting idolizing is helping him put his own stamp on the program. Kelly graduated from West Branch in 2010 and played collegiately at St. Ambrose before returning to his alma mater to coach running backs.
This season Kelly plans to watch Lenoch surpass Jones as the all-time leading rusher in program history. Lenoch enters this season with 4,184 career rushing yards, 237 shy of passing Jones’ career total.
“It’s an honor to work with Luke and I’m glad that I’m here to help him try to succeed,” Kelly said. “When I got done with college I saw the opportunity that I could help him become an even better athlete. I want to give him the knowledge that I gained from college and pass it down.”
Three years ago Lenoch wasn’t thinking about being the most prolific running back in program history, he was just trying to get on the field as a freshman. To prepare for his freshman season Lenoch walked a mile each way to the school, twice a day for workouts.
After rushing for 250 yards and three touchdowns in a backup role as a freshman Lenoch has rushed for 3,934 yards and 54 touchdowns in two seasons as the Bears’ feature back. During that time he has never wavered from the work ethic that he had as an incoming freshman just trying to earn a varsity jersey.
“I definitely kept that same mentality because that’s what every great player has to do,” Lenoch said. “You have to start somewhere and when it works you just have to keep working from that and keep trying to get stronger, faster and better.”
In 34 years leading the West Branch program Butch Pedersen has seen many of the best to ever put on a Bear uniform. The long-time coach puts Lenoch toward the top of that list.
“He’s one of the best running backs I’ve ever seen here,” Pedersen said. “He is also one of the best kids. Everything that he does is related to team work, it’s related to his teammates and he is very humble and that’s what makes a super star.”
The 5-foot-9, 180-pound Lenoch is coming off a junior season in which he rushed for 1,829 yards and 24 touchdowns. A similar year would rewrite every rushing record at West Branch.
Lenoch needs 10 touchdowns and 45 points to pass Jones as the leader in both of those categories. In his first three seasons Lenoch has scored 57 touchdowns and scored 360 points.
“He is absolutely among those top guys to play here, if not the best,” Kelly said. “He is quick, he has good moves, he is a great blocker, he’s an all-around great player.”
After averaging 8.2 yards per attempt on better than 500 carries in his first three seasons Lenoch has a chance to become the 14th player in state history to eclipse the 6,000 yard mark this season.
“There are times where we all make mistakes, you’ll slip on a block or fall down and then you’ll see Luke 20 yards down field already,” West Branch junior lineman Jacob Barnhart said. “You don’t always do your job great but he always does his. He makes things a lot easier for us.”