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Raiders open season Friday at home against Minnetonka

Hudson quarterback John Uchytil finds some running room during the Raider football team’s scrimmage with South St. Paul last Saturday at the high school practice field. The Raiders open the 2014 season this Friday at home at 7 p.m. against Minnetonka, Minn. (Hudson Star-Observer photos by Bob Burrows)1 / 2
Raider senior Lucas Traynor wraps up the South St. Paul quarterback during the team’s scrimmage last Saturday morning at the high school practice field.2 / 2

The Raider football team was on its way to face Arrowhead in last year’s WIAA state semifinal game when head coach Adam Kowles turned to assistant coach Jamie Bolt and asked, “Did you ever think we’d be here when we were down 29-0 to Minnetonka in the first game of the season?”

Hudson lost that game to Minnetonka, 43-23. But they went on to win their next 11 games and reach the state semifinals for the second straight year, winning their second consecutive Big Rivers Conference title in the process.

This year Hudson and Minnetonka face off in the season opener again; at Newton Field this Friday at 7 p.m., and Kowles said he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“They really got after us early (last year) but then we settled in and did some OK things,” Kowles said. “I think the past few years we’ve really tried to make a splash with our nonconference games; I just think it helps you. You find out your weaknesses and what you have to do better.”

The Raiders return five starters on offense and three on defense from last year’s team that finished 11-2 and set a program record for most wins in a season. Kowles said last year’s long postseason run also helped the team’s part-time starters and backups prepare for the coming season.

“When you have some success in previous years it helps the younger guys,” he said. “The later you go in the season the more practices you have and it helps the guys coming back the next year. They get a lot of valuable practice time.”

Hudson returns one All-Big Rivers Conference player on each side of the ball --senior offensive lineman Jon Wilgren and senior defensive back Lucas Traynor.

Traynor will serve as one of the team’s co-captains this season along with classmates Andy Johnson, Jack Koski, and John Uchytil.

“Those guys have a lot of experience, Kowles said. “We let the players vote for the captains and we take the top four, and I think they really worked it out well. We have a quarterback, an offensive lineman, a defensive back and a linebacker, so every group is represented.”

Kowles said he expects great leadership from all 33 returning seniors this season.

“I told this whole senior group; you don’t have to have a captain’s badge to be a leader, and I think they know that,” he said. “There’s a lot of leadership on this team.”

So far Kowles said he’s been impressed with the play of the team’s defense in practice.

“As an offensive guy, we go against our defense every day and that defense has some speed over there,” he said. “They’ve been flying around. I like the speed on the defensive side of the ball.”

Kowles said he likes the energy he’s seeing in practice leading up to the first game.

“So much of practice is attitude and enthusiasm,” he said. “Sometimes it’s a grind and you think, I have to go to practice. But when guys get out there excited about it and get better reps it carries over. I think that’s what’s happening.”

The Raiders have adopted the motto, “The Journey is the Reward” this season. Kowles said it’s an attitude all of his teams have embraced.

“We’ve had that up in the weight room for quite a while, up on the wall in big letters,” he said. “It’s something we focus on even though we’ve never used it as a motto. The results are great and it’s good to have goals, but I think the process is what’s helped us out for years. Just try to get better every day and every game. Even though it hasn’t been our motto the past few years, that’s how we play.”

He said this year’s team is looking to make its own mark on the program.

“Everyone knows there’s a tradition to carry over, but every team knows they’re 0-0 at the beginning of the year and they have to earn it and make it happen,” he said. “That’s the part about playing a lot of seniors. Each year those senior guys take ownership. They’ve been part of the past but now they want to make their own mark here.”

Kowles said the Raiders will have their work cut out for them in their bid for a third straight BRC title.

“I think the conference is very good,” he said. “Eau Claire Memorial has a three-year starter at quarterback, Menomonie has a sophomore starter back, Superior has last year’s player of the year, Rice Lake is always good, Eau Claire North with a new coach last year, you’re always better your second year, River Falls has lots of experience and Chippewa Falls has some good athletes.

“It helps us,” he added. “The better the conference is, the higher we have to rise to beat those teams. You want your conference to be good. You want to have teams you have to get after week in and week out.”

After this Friday night’s opener against Minnetonka, the Raiders will have a rematch with Chanhassen on Thursday, Aug. 28, at 7 p.m. at Newton Field. Hudson won last year’s contest in Chanhassen, 20-0.

The Raiders Big Rivers Conference opener will be Friday, Sept. 5, at Superior.

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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