Since the Yorkton Regional High School Raider Gridders fell to the Moose Jaw Peacock Tornadoes in the 3A championship game last November, head coach Roby Sharpe has been counting down the days until the start of this season.
“It was tough to get that far and not win it all,” said Sharpe, who started practice on Aug. 26. “We play to win and we came very close to winning it all last year. Right after the game I already started thinking about this year. I always look forward to football season and have been eager to get this year going. I think we have the right guys to win a championship this year.”
The Raider Gridders did lose some key players from last year such as former No. 1 quarterback Dalton Fichtner, who has since joined the Regina Rams, linebacker Layne Hull, who has since joined the Okanagan Sun, and star defensive player Adam McCannell. These losses, however, aren’t worrying Sharpe too much because it’s business as usual in the high school ranks.
“I’m used to always losing star players,” said the head coach. “Year after year I remember thinking ‘How am I going to replace this guy.’ And at first you notice the void, but then someone steps up and you move on.”
As far as who will fill the voids of the graduated superstars, Sharpe believes there is no shortage of players on his roster with the potential to do so.
“There are lots of guys who should have breakout years and frankly were already stars last year,” he said. “Grey McKen has really stood out. He’s a man amongst boys out there. He plays linebacker and has a lot of potential to really dominate. David Balysky is going to be our new quarterback. He looks good out there. And the Kozushka boys (Peter and Mike) are also stars. I think both of them will go onto play CIS.”
Even though the popular sports saying is ‘defence wins championships,’ the Raider Gridders are going to be relying on their offence as their backbone this year.
“We are always a defensive-minded team,” said Sharpe. “That has always been our style – defence first. But Jason Boyda is an unbelievable offensive coordinator. With a guy like him in our coaching staff who can really get our offense going, we really lean on our offense. So I think we are technically more of an offensive-minded team.”
The Raider Gridders’ biggest offensive strength isn’t a star quarterback, speedy running back or lanky receiver. It’s rather the tandem of guys on the offensive line that protects those players.
“Our offensive line is going to be our strength this year,” said Sharpe. “We probably average around 6-foot-2 or 6-foot-3 and over 200 pounds. We have some big boys up there. They will give our quarterback lots of time and will make key blocks for our running game.”
In the beginning stages of training camp, the 12-man football club is going to just work on the fundamentals to get the ball rolling, but Sharpe hopes it doesn’t take long to piece his roster in place.
“We always start out slow, but I want to get positions in place soon so our guys can get comfortable out there,” said the head coach. “Like every year, it’s a process in which we just want consistent improvements every week.”
The Raider Gridders have lots of time to work out the bugs in practice because they aren’t going to play any pre-season games and have a bye week in the first week of action in the Moose Jaw High School Football League.
“We decided not to play any pre-season games because we want to keep the injuries down,” said Sharpe. “It’s not good that we have to get the bye week right off the bat, but someone in the seven-team league has to do it.”
The Raider Gridders kick off their season at home on Sept. 14 at 2 p.m. against Moose Jaw Vanier.