Fall preview: footballIt didn’t take long for the 2010 version of the Hastings Raiders football team to learn it was snakebitten. Before the season had even started, one of the team’s top two running backs went down with a season-ending injury. Then, after just one play of the regular season, the second of those running backs had been hurt, he, too, with a season-ending injury.
By: Chad Richardson, The Hastings Star-Gazette
It didn’t take long for the 2010 version of the Hastings Raiders football team to learn it was snakebitten. Before the season had even started, one of the team’s top two running backs went down with a season-ending injury.
Then, after just one play of the regular season, the second of those running backs had been hurt, he, too, with a season-ending injury.
Coach Dana Strain is looking to put all that behind him and his team in 2011. Both those players return this year, and Strain is hoping to keep them and everyone else healthy.
“If we can stay healthy, we expect to be a very competitive football team,” Strain said. “In a tough league, that simply means we want to be in a position to win some games in the second half.
“We’re pretty deep right now. We have talent in a lot of different positions. I’m just a little gun shy. We’re just banking on the fact that, with as tough as it was last year, it’s got to be our year this year. It must be about our turn.”
When asked what would make or break his team this year, it didn’t take long for Strain to answer. Predictably, the answer revolves around keeping his players healthy.
“We’ve got several returning starters, and we have some guys who we think can get the job done,” he said. “We just don’t know for sure until we start playing some other teams. We have to have some guys who step up, and we have to keep everyone healthy. If we don’t do that, well …”
Hastings finished last season with a 1-9 record. Improving on that mark is something the team would, obviously, like to accomplish.
“We’re cautiously optimistic, and excited,” Strain said, “We don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves, but we feel good about some of the things we’re doing and some of the kids we have.”
Captains for the Raiders are Aaron Stoneberg and Alex Boyer.
Stoneberg is the team’s starting quarterback. He started last year, too.
“We’re expecting big things from him,” Strain said. “We thought he played pretty well for us last year. We’re excited about where he’s at. He’s a great captain. He’s a good football player, and he’s a good person in the building, too.”
Boyer is a starting middle linebacker. He started last year as well, but had to deal with some injuries that cut into his playing time.
“He works his butt off in the offseason,” Strain said. “He’s a good-sized kid. If he’s healthy, he’ll have a good year for us. He’s a top-notch kid, as far as doing the right things and treating people well in the building. As long as we can keep him healthy, he’ll be a good one.”
Several starters are returning on each side of the ball for Hastings.
On offense, Tyler Mellick returns. He was slated to be one of the team’s top running backs last year, but hurt his knee during the first week of practice and didn’t get to see a single snap during the year.
Zach Anderson returns as well. Anderson, too, was to be on the team’s top backs last year, but he broke his collarbone on the first play of the season and missed the rest of the year.
Having those two players back will go a long ways in helping the Hastings offense.
“We will line up quite a few times with both Tyler and Zach in the backfield,” Strain said. “Both of those guys, if they don’t end up carrying the ball a lot and we split carries, could get some time on the defensive side of the ball.”
Ellis Williams had a strong season for the Raiders as a wide receiver. He returns for his senior year. Williams earned all-conference honorable mention status as a junior.
“He’s a real playmaker,” Strain said. “He was one of the top players in the league last year.”
Isaac Eichmann and Jake Anderson are both returning linemen.
Jason Bauer is a junior who saw playing time last year as a tight end.
On defense, Eric McCarthy and Tate Sykes both return at cornerback.
Sykes played a lot last season as a running back with all the injuries there, but should be back in his natural position this fall.
Zach Mellick, Matt Koch and Boyer all return at linebacker.
Jake Swenson returns as a defensive end this year.
Eichmann played some on defense last year as well, and he will see some playing time on that side of the ball again this year.
Mike Rodriguez will see a fair amount of playing time as a wide receiver. He had a good season last year on junior varsity and is now a senior.
Mike Hubley missed last year with a bad knee and is out this season as a wide receiver.
Connor Stoker should start at center.
Danny Anderson and Sam Hicks both played last year on the defensive line and return this year.
In the Suburban East Conference, Mounds View, Cretin-Derham Hall and White Bear Lake should all excel.
There are four new head coaches in the conference, so there are a lot of unknowns, too.