Thurber will be young but full of fight
Last season what the Lindsay Thurber Raiders lacked in experience on the line they more than made up for in the skilled positions.
This season it’s just the opposite.
Raiders head coach Dave Smith couldn’t be happier with his offensive and defensive lines while several of the skilled positions are filled with newcomers.
“This is the youngest team I’ve coached, with a lot of the kids moving up from the junior program,” said Smith.
And several of those will fill the offensive backfield, led by Grade 10 quarterback Brayden Moorman, who directed the Jr. Raiders to second place in the provincial Tier II bantam championships last season. Moorman, at six-foot and 210-pounds, has the size to play in the league and also played in the Alberta Summer Games and was with the Central Alberta midget Prairie Fire.
“They had a great junior team last year and we’re reaping the benefits,” said Smith. “The kids coming in lack experience at this level, but they have a solid background and have a high football IQ. In fact a lot of the kids we have played with the Prairie Fire as well, so that’s a benefit. The more football they play the better.”
The only downside of the Fire was then loss of two defensive starters through injury — Sam Pharand and Tim Hayward.
“That hurts as we expect to lose them for the season, but then they could be hurt at any time.”
Offensively the Raiders, who posted a 5-3 record last season for fourth in the league, have only Todd Tulman returning as running back. Tulman finished fourth on the team with 116 yards rushing on 31 carries.
Sam Vesely, who moves up from the bantams, could see some action at running back, but will be used more as a receiver
The offensive line will be anchored by Aaron Curry, Keifer Esslemont, Tanner Warren and Nate Thomas who will also play on the defensive side.
“We have some work to do as far as experience is concerned, but we’ll be competitive,” said Smith, who has safety Riley Collins and Grade 10 linebacker Cody Hawkes anchoring the defence along with those on the line. Smith is extremely excited from what he sees in Hawkes.
“In a couple of years he will be the best in the league,” he said.
The Raiders will see their first action tonight when they host the Wetaskiwin Sabres at 7:30 p.m. at Great Chief Park. It’s part of the league, yet one of two exhibition games each team will play.
With the addition of the Ponoka Broncs, the league will be divided into two pools of five teams each. Teams play everyone in their division plus two games against teams from the other pool.
“I like it,” said Smith. “There’s no compression weeks and there’s a true playoff with four teams from each pool advancing. As well our first and last games are exhibition so it gives us a chance to go into the season with a game under our belt and a chance to go into the playoffs after a week where we can rest some guys and work on a few things for the playoffs.”
The Raiders are in a division with the Hunting Hills Lightning, Notre Dame Cougars, Sylvan Lake Lakers and Lacombe Rams.
“It’s a tough division for sure, but by playing tough teams every game it makes you that much better.”
The Raiders open their regular season Sept. 14 at Lacombe and open at home Sept, 21 against the Lakers.
• Collins will be the backup quarterback . . . Dave Henderson has been added to the coaching staff . . . Other exhibition games tonight sees the Lightning visiting the Broncs and Lacombe at Stettler . . . Rocky is at Sylvan Lake and Notre Dame is at Camrose on Friday.