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Raiders ready for some football

Raider head football coach Adam Kowles said his team may look different to fans this season.

One reason is the Raiders only return four starters on both sides of the line. But don't expect any wholesale changes to the way the team plays the game.

"To fans, we're going to look a lot different offensively, but we're really not going to be that different. We'll just have some different wrinkles on the same scheme," he said. "We're going to do some things sideline to sideline. We're going to use a lot of different guys in a lot of different ways. Things have evolved over the past few years, and we'll see what kind of wrinkles we can add without selling the farm."

Fans will get their first look at the 2009 Raiders when they open the season Friday night against Wisconsin Rapids at 7 p.m. at Newton Field. And while the team lost eight of nine All-Big Rivers Conference players from last year's team to graduation, the Raiders' roster is loaded with 34 seniors, which Kowles said is a big plus.

"They've been around the program; they know how to practice, they know how we prepare for game day. It's good to have those guys around," the coach said.

The Raiders finished 4-3 in the BRC and 6-3 overall a year ago.

Kowles said he liked what he saw at the team's scrimmage in Menomonie last Friday.

"I thought we did some good things. Offensively, we made some mistakes, but nothing out of the ordinary. There are some things we have to work on but overall I thought it was good. We had good intensity, and we executed well for the most part."

He said the offensive line, which brings in four new starters, played well together and the team displayed good overall speed.

"We're not real big on defense, but we move around well and are fundamentally sound," Kowles said.

Kowles said players will have to gain experience quickly, and pointed to the Raiders' tough schedule to start the season as proof. After opening up against Wisconsin Rapids, the Raiders travel to Somerset before opening up BRC play at Superior Sept. 11 and hosting two-time BRC champion Chippewa Falls Sept. 18.

"We've got to get going right away; they're going to get experience on the run," he said. "When you have that many new guys on varsity, even though they may have played together since seventh grade, getting that varsity game speed for the first time; how will they react? We try to simulate it in practice and at the scrimmage, but it's still not quite like Friday night."

Kowles said one adjustment the coaching staff has made is to simplify things for the players.

"Guys will know what they're doing. They won't have to think about it and play tentatively," he said.

Going into the season, the Raiders coaches have stressed basic fundamentals -- hanging on to the ball, not turning the ball over, and tackling well -- and Kowles said the team's success will come down to execution of those goals.

"It's not specifically what you are doing, but are you doing what you do right?" he said. "When plays don't go well, it's usually because of execution. Sometimes you just have to tip your hat to the other team and say they made a nice play, but if you execute you have a better chance of a play succeeding."

Kowles said the team is excited about the upcoming season, and added he appreciates the support from the community.

"The support has been fantastic," he said. "I think people are ready for football at this time of year. This is what people get excited about."

Bob Burrows
Bob Burrows has been sports editor at the River Falls Journal since 1996 and at the Hudson Star-Observer since 2009. Prior to joining the Journal, Burrows served as sports editor with Ledger Publications in Balsam Lake, Wis. A native of Bayonne, N.J. and a U.S. Navy veteran, Burrows attended Marquette University before completing his studies at UW-River Falls in 1992.
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