Football preview: Raiders return 8 of 22 starters
This time of year, as football fans begin forecasting how their favorite teams will fare in 2010, one key stat is used: How many returning starters does their team have?
By that measure, there will likely be many other teams in the Suburban East Conference that will have a leg up on the Hastings High School team.
The Raiders return a total of eight starters. That leaves 14 spots that will be filled by newcomers, and the field of those newcomers is smaller than normal for the Raiders. Hastings had 40 players on the sidelines for Saturday's scrimmage at Minnetonka.
"That's a challenge," Hastings coach Dana Strain said.
Regardless, Strain expects one thing from his team: competitiveness.
"I always say I'd like for us to be a very competitive football team," Strain said. "I don't ever make predictions on wins and losses. I do know that we're going to play hard and I think we've got enough talent that we're going to be a competitive team."
Early this season, Hastings' depth has been challenged with a couple key injuries, especially at the running back position. If those situations can be resolved, and if the Raiders can stay healthy, Strain's anxiety level should decrease.
"Injuries are going to be our biggest concern," he said. "If we stay healthy, I like the kids we've got. If we don't, our lack of depth will be magnified."
Hastings fans can expect to see another strong conference season, with teams from Cretin-Derham Hall, Mounds View and Stillwater among the league's best.
Captains for this year's team are Matt Anderson, Brandon Anderson, Derek Bane and Peter Schultz. Matt Anderson and Schultz were both captains on last year's team, a rare feat for the then-juniors.
"In all my years of coaching high school football, it has been rare that we've had junior captains," Strain said. "It's quite an honor for those two. That says quite a bit right there about those two."
Matt Anderson will play quarterback and linebacker for the Raiders.
"He'll be all over the field, to be honest with you," Strain said. "He'll be on special teams as well. He's a super athlete and he's a very good leader. The kids really look up to him and respect him."
Brandon Anderson is an offensive lineman and he will also play some on the defensive line.
"He's getting moved around a little bit right now," Strain said. "He'll be able to fit in anywhere. He's been exceptional on the offensive line to this point. He's going to be one of our top offensive linemen.
"We're going to limit him a little bit on defense, but he'll be out there all the time on offense. He had a great off-season in the weight room. We're very happy with where he is at."
Bane was injured at the start of last season, but came back toward the end of the season and was a contributor for the Raiders. He'll play wide receiver this year. He's coming back from a knee injury and once he's at 100 percent, he'll probably see time on defense, too.
"He's certainly a good enough athlete that, at some point, I wouldn't be surprised if he saw some defensive action," Strain said.
Schultz started as a tight end last season and will see some time there again this year. He will also be a big factor as a defensive end.
"We will try to limit his snaps on offense," Strain said. "This year, he's a swing guy. If we have injuries on the line, he could go in and do that. He could play some tight end, where Jake Koenig will also get some time."
On offense, Hastings returns four starters in Matt Anderson, Brandon Anderson, Schultz and wide receiver Tony Hammes.
"He's our No. 1 receiver this year," Strain said.
With just one returner on the offensive line, that's definitely a concern for the Raiders. Strain, though, said he's happy with the players he has there this year, they just need some experience under their belts.
"I like the kids we've got," he said. "They just haven't started and haven't played a lot yet. We'll get their feet wet on Friday.
"There will be some growing pains, but we've got some good football players in those spots."
On defense, there are four returners in free safety Ryan Doffing, cornerback Eric McCarthy, defensive lineman Travis Cysiewski and defensive lineman Josh Lohmann.
Again, the line is the one spot that lacks a lot of experience.
"On both sides of the football, we have to build the lines," Strain said. "There are going to be new faces and first-time starters out there in a lot of cases.
Injuries have taken a toll thus far on a pair of running backs.
Tyler Mellick, who saw time as a sophomore, is out right now with a knee problem.
"We really, really like him," Strain said. "He would be the guy, but he's injured. We're hopeful we'll get him back. Up to the point he was hurt, he was looking really good."
Zach Rohr, an all-state wrestler, is back this season on the team, but has an ankle issue limiting his time thus far.
Tate Sykes, a junior, will get some reps at running back and at corner back.
Zach Anderson, a sophomore, has been brought up to fill the void left by the injured running backs.
"Zach is going to be a good one down the road," Strain said. "We ran him Saturday at our scrimmage and he looked pretty good.
Aaron Stoneberg, a junior, will see playing time at quarterback.
"He's looked really good in camp thus far and had a good scrimmage Saturday," Strain said.
Junior linebacker Alex Boyer has been a "pleasant surprise," Strain said.
"He has really worked hard in the offseason and has earned a starting job through his hard work," Strain said. "He has grown, too. If you looked at him a year ago, you'd never have guessed it - but now he looks the part."