The Hastings Raiders football team faces two main challenges heading into this season according to head coach Dana Strain: roster turnover and generating more explosive plays on offense.
The Raiders lost some starters from last year on the offensive and defensive fronts, however most of the turnover comes at the skill positions, most importantly quarterback.
"That's the one position that is most interesting of all I think," Strain said about the quarterback spot. "It's still, at this point, a four-person group that has an opportunity still to win the job."
Those four are Hunter Kazmierczak, a senior who was the backup quarterback and punter last season; fellow senior Sully Levos who was banged up off-and-on last year and juniors Colby Zak and Dylan Wagner.
"Those are two seniors and we like both of those guys, both have a shot at it," Strain said. "The juniors we've had fewer eyes on them because as a varsity staff we're not with them on game nights, we haven't seen quite as much of them in day-to-day practice. When you bring in juniors that weren't with you all the time there's always a little bit of that excitement, a little bit of that intrigue but they're a little bit more of an unknown. All four bring a little something different to the table, that's what's kind of neat about it."
Schematically, Hastings was effective on offense but was not able to generate many explosive plays on the ground or through the air last year, which hampered them despite a generally solid defense. Strain said he hopes to continue that effectiveness while figuring out how to generate more, as he calls them "chunk plays" of big yardage.
"We ran the ball effectively last year, but we didn't hit as many home runs as you would like to," Strain said. "And that's one of the challenges that we'll pose to the group this year, is that we have to find a way to create more explosive plays."
"Also last year, at the end of the season, Benny Streeter and Noah Kullman (both wide receivers) kind of came to the forefront late in the season," he said. "Ben developed through the year and really started to blossom as the year went along. He'll come back at receiver and Noah Kullman is more of a slot receiver who can run it. When he came back healthy at the end of the season, he was a dynamic playmaker for us that we didn't have for most of the year."
Strain said that being able to establish those two, along with their leading rusher Corbin Leflay, will open up the offense and hopefully break those big runs, as well as help establish and develop the passing game.
A side-note that continues from last year is the search for a kicker for field goals and kickoffs.
Now-senior Noah Kullman was supposed to kick last season but battled injuries, which resulted in Strain bringing in boys' soccer player Joshua Lewanski midway through the season. Strain said that the current plan is for Kullman to once again hold that spot, with junior Trevor Caflisch in the mix as well, while punting will be Kazmierczak and Caflisch.
Hastings opens up the season on the road at Henry Sibley on Thursday, Aug. 30. The home opener is the next week, Sept. 7, against Hill-Murray. For the second year in a row, they will play both Apple Valley and Park, though this year both games are at home. The Raiders then end the season at South St. Paul.