By Steve Wilaj
Good is not good enough for South Range.
After a 2012 season in which the Raiders made a two-win improvement from 2011, head coach Dan Yeagley knows a 7-3 record is respectable for any team.
But the Raiders are not complacent. Instead, their offseason focused on simply getting better. And according to Yeagley — entering his 19th season with South Range — so far so good.
“Everything is going up and everything is increasing,” he said. “Our intensity is increasing, our players’ offseason numbers increased and our conditioning increased. We’re hoping that leads over into more wins.”
South Range lost a senior class of 16 players, which Yeagley admits played a big role in last season’s improvements. But the Raiders still have experienced players coming back.
Because of injuries, Yeagley was forced to play many underclassmen on Friday nights in 2012. While it may have hurt last season’s team — which narrowly missed the playoffs — that experience will only help the 2013 Raiders.
“With those underclassmen getting Friday night playing time, it was crucial because now they feel a little more comfortable in practice,” Yeagley said. “They’ll also feel a little more comfortable Friday nights, just getting used to game speed.”
One of those underclassmen forced into playing time was sophomore quarterback Ryan Miller. Entering his first full season as a starter, the junior is surrounded by a talented group of playmakers.
Senior Billy Goodall, last season’s leading rusher for the Raiders, will be the featured halfback. He’ll share the carrying duties with fellow senior Zach Thorpe. Senior Bryce Allen is expected to be the top target for Miller. Anchoring the offensive line will be seniors Garrett Sorely and Zach Baird.
“It all started in the weight room in the offseason,” Allen said. “We worked really hard, we pushed ourselves and now we’re in a position to be better.”
With an offense that features so many seniors — which Yeagley refers to as a “phenomenal group of leaders” — South Range expects a dynamic offense.
“Everything’s just molding together and offensively it’s clicking a little bit,” Yeagley said. “Hopefully we can be explosive like we were last year.”
The Raiders’ defense will be led by another senior. Defensive tackle Jake Ruiz (6-foot-5, 270 pounds) will be the man in the middle, while linebackers Baird, Ryan Haynes and Eric Liston will anchor South Range’s 4-3.
“You’re going to see a lot of good things from the defense,” Ruiz said. “We’re looking really strong up front. We have a solid defensive line. I expect a couple shutouts for sure and not too many high-scoring games.”
These units are a bit uncertain. Yeagley realizes it will be hard to replace All-Ohio punter Cole Krumpak.
“We have to improve a lot until the end of camp with our special teams play,” he said.
With a sense of things moving in the right direction, the Raiders enter 2013 with an abundance of confidence.
“We have a solid possibility of winning the league,” Ruiz said. “And we can definitely make the playoffs. No doubt.”