BANGOR — The Bangor High School football team wouldn’t have won a WIAA Division 7 state championship two seasons ago and followed that up with an appearance in the semifinals last year without a number of impact players.
But time just seems to stand still when the ball is put in the waiting hands of Luke Reader.
It doesn’t matter if it’s on a handoff designed to go up the middle or a pitch designed to get him to the outside. Doesn’t make a difference if he’s closing in on an interception or returning a punt of kickoff.
Even among a team of standout players, Reader is dynamic.
“It’s just what we expect,” offensive and defensive lineman Garrett Krueger said of Reader. “We’ve been watching him do that all of our lives.”
Reader will be the first to point out that having other threats like Drew Johnson, Theo Muellenberg and Carter Horstman in the backfield help him to play that way. But none of them are directly responsible for the instinct and explosiveness the senior running back, linebacker and return specialist provides on a weekly basis.
“I tell anyone who will listen that his athletic IQ is better than that of any other player I have coached,” Bangor coach Rick Muellenberg said. “He can recognize a situation and quickly adjust to it. It doesn’t matter if it’s defensively or offensively, he knows what everyone on the field has to do and adjusts accordingly.”
The Cardinals hope that continues again this season as they try to win another Scenic Bluffs Conference championship and see what they can do about winning another state title.
Bangor has won the Scenic Bluffs three consecutive times and owns a 37-2 record with Reader and the rest of this senior class on the roster.
Reader’s contribution to that has been 1,746 rushing yards, 29 touchdowns and 175 tackles. He has averaged 7.1 yards per rush, 16 yards per catch, 22.7 yards on kickoff returns and 8.9 yards on punt returns during his Bangor career.
The 6-foot, 185-pounder broke out last season after the graduation of his brother, Jack. Reader also punted for a 34.1-yard average and made 19 extra points for a team that generally went for two after scoring touchdowns.
Reader, who has been receiving more college interest as a basketball player after scoring nearly 1,200 points in three seasons, said this fall has its own feel despite most of the faces being familiar ones.
The Cardinals were one win short of a chance at the state championship last year with a lineup dominated by juniors. Bangor has 13 seniors this season.
“When we run our plays, we know what we’re doing … even better than last year for most of us,” Reader said. “We’ve been playing together a long time and get along very well, which you can see on the practice field.
“That goes a long way in what we’re trying to do.”
Reader is just trying to make big plays turn into big victories after reaching the end zone five ways as a junior. He rushed for 14 touchdowns and caught two TD passes. Reader also returned two punts and an interception for scores and rushed for nine two-point conversions.
“If he touches the ball, we are gaining yards,” said senior quarterback Drew Johnson, who rushed for 696 yards and 10 touchdowns as a junior. “I trust that he will make the right decisions because he sees the field so well, and when he goes, he goes.
“He’s so strong and quick. One play I will always remember is the punt return he had (for a touchdown) against Melrose(-Mindoro).”
That play came as the first half expired and covered 72 yards to give the Cardinals a 26-0 lead on the Mustangs. Bangor went on to a 40-7 victory against a team that eventually won the Dairyland Conference with an undefeated record and finished 8-2 after qualifying for the Division 6 playoffs.
It showed that the team was ready to play with the best teams the state had to offer. With an experienced group led by the explosive Reader back on the field, the expectation is that the Cardinals can do that again.
“The first goal is always to win the conference,” Muellenberg said. “After that, we just want to play our best and see where it goes.”