The Lindsay Thurber Raiders graduated a long list of key players from their 2014 team — one of the strongest in recent school history — but coaches Jay Hetherington and Dean Pasiuk do not forecast a drastic drop-off this year.
In fact . . .
“We were a very talented team last year and what’s happened is that we appear to be relatively talented again,” said defensive line coach/special teams coordinator Hetherington, the Raiders former long-time head coach.
“I think we’re pretty solid along both lines, we have some good people back in the defensive backfield and our running backs look quite impressive to me.”
The off-season loss of quarterback Ben Pasiuk, who suffered an injury during the Football Canada Cup and will be lost to the Raiders for most of the season, will no doubt affect the team, but Hetherington feels there’s enough depth on the roster to ease the pain.
“Ben is a big loss, but we have other talented people in the breech,” said Hetherington.
TK Kunaka will start at quarterback when the Raiders open their regular season today at 4:30 p.m. at Great Chief Park against the Lacombe Rams. He’ll be aiming his passes at the likes of rookie Grade 10 receivers Kade Best and Max Arnold as well as veterans Dave Dunbar, Hunter Lustig, Jon Goulet Steven Pell and Tarren Romaniw, who will also line up as a defensive back.
Bradley Pope and fellow returnee Randy Murdoch will handle running backs duties this season.
“Murdoch will also used be used on special teams,” said Pasiuk, the Raiders offensive coordinator. “He’s a pretty special player. He’ll see the field a lot.”
Kunaka and his running backs will operate behind a line that should be an area of strength, said Pasiuk.
“Our offensive line is going to be a really good unit for us this year,” he said, referring to the likes of Brody Halverson, Kayden Price, Carter O’Donnell and Grade 10 Sewalt Jacob.
On the defensive side of the ball, Pasiuk has been impressed with the play of linebacker Keith Warren in camp. Warren will play behind a defensive line that features returnees Riley Ackerman, Bret Goller and Hunter Doerksen.
The Raiders’ defensive backfield will be led by three members of the 2015 midget Prairie Fire — Dawson McCrae, Alex Fletch and Colton Dulc.
Joining Ben Pasiuk on the injured list is inside slotback Logan Howard.
“He was having a great camp when he hurt his elbow,” said coach Pasiuk. “He’ll be out for awhile.”
The Raiders defeated the three-time league champion Hunting Hills Lightning twice in regular-season play last year, then were thumped 44-13 by their Red Deer foes in the division final.
Hetherington sees the division as up for grabs this year.
“There should be a lot of parity in the league this season,” he said. “Lacombe has a strong team so it should be a good tilt Friday.”