Lindsay Thurber Raiders head coach Dave Smith likes what he sees in training camp, but until his squad actually plays a meaningful Central Alberta High School Football League game there’s still several questions surrounding the Red Deer squad.
The Raiders posted a 1-6-1 record last season before losing 17-16 to Camrose in the B-side semifinals.
“We’re definitely further ahead than we were last year at this time,” said Smith, who is in his fourth season as Raiders head coach. “We have a solid group of kids returning and a good influx of Grade 10s, who had a good season with the bantam program last year.
“We have some good athletes, who know how to play. I’ve spent less time this year on fundamentals than I have in any other year.”
Smith credits solid coaching at the bantam level for the growth of the younger players.
“You can see it in the way they come in and handle the move up to this level,” he said. “Now that we have atom and peewee to go with the bantams it will only benefit the high school team that much more.”
The Raiders have been working out twice a day for most of the training camp, which Smith hopes has them ready for their league opener tonight against the Hunting Hills Lightning at 7 p.m. at Great Chief Park.
“We didn’t have any exhibition games because of the two-a-day practices,” added Smith. “So this will be a big test for us right off the bat. But I think we’re ready.”
Offensively the Raiders will be led by veteran running back Charlie Jacobson and quarterback Kyle O’Meara.
Jacobson, who missed part of last season with an injury, was second on the team with 302 yards on 46 carries for a 6.6 average while O’Meara was second in the league last season with a 44.4 pass completion percentage.
“I’m excited about Kyle. He’s taller and quicker this season while Jacobson is also stronger and bigger,” added Smith, who will use Grade 10 rookie Wilson Lougheed as backup quarterback.
Elliott Mahood, who was a premier player in the bantam league, will also work out of the offensive backfield.
Centre Ryan Mannerfeldt and third-year veteran Travis Greer will anchor the offensive line.
“We’re certainly deeper on offence than we have been, which is definitely an asset,” said Smith, who plans on running a traditional offence.
“Nothing fancy,” he said. “But we have a lot of good athletes, more so than in the past.”
Linebacker Brendan Thompson will lead the defence with Michael Soley and Taze Steeves anchoring the line. Grade 10 brothers Greg and Ryan Fowler are expected to step into the defensive backfield, anchored by veteran safety Mark Fay.
Greg Fowler will also fill in at running back.
Former Raiders head coach Jay Heatherington has returned to the team and will work with the offensive and defensive lines. Brian Plastow, Kyle Liptak, Aaron Sheppard, Dean Pasiuk, Jim Martens, Devon Hand and new bantam head coach Blair Murray, will work as assistant coaches.