MEAD – It’s been 12 years since the last playoff win for the Mead Raider football team.
Fifth-year head coach Terry Hickman and the 2019 Raiders are working to bring that drought to an end.
Hickman is 14-20 in his four years on the Mead sideline and his team is coming off their second straight 3-5 campaign.
The Raiders showed marked improvement last season while playing a number of freshmen and sophomores.
The Raiders could have as many as 25 players out this season, a number that has been on the increase the past two seasons after Hickman had just 13 players out in 2016.
Five starters return on offense for the Raiders, including their entire passing game. Mead averaged 33.5 points a game in 2018.
Pulling the trigger in the passing game for a second straight season will be 150-pound junior Calvin Muhlbach.
Muhlbach passed for 456 yards and seven touchdowns and added 270 yards rushing and four touchdowns in his first year under center as a sophomore.
Muhlbach will have a pair of big targets in the passing game.
Senior JT Haag (6-2, 155) and junior Hunter Pickworth (6-1, 175) both return at receiver for the Raiders. The duo combined for nearly 400 yards receiving and seven touchdowns in 2018.
Hickman expects big things from both players this season.
“We are counting on those three guys to take major steps forward for us this season,” Hickman said.
Sophomore Caleb Lihs (160) is poised to have a breakout year for the Raiders as the team’s featured back. He rushed for 325 yards and seven touchdowns as a freshman last season.
“Caleb is the most experienced ball carrier we have coming back, but we feel like we have a couple other guys who could step in and play for us,” Hickman added.
Hickman will be tasked with reworking the Raiders offensive line, but has a good one to build around in 210-pound junior Cade Mongan. Mongan started on both sides of the ball last season and has a unique combination of speed and agility.
Junior Bayley LaCroix (6-3, 255) and seniors Riley Mayfield (5-7, 165) and Tyler Engle (5-10, 205) are all expected to help out up front this season.
“We are going to have to find a center. Aidan (Mongan) or Caleb (Dickes) snapped the ball the last four season’s for us so we will have to find a replacement,” said Hickman.
The Raiders will have to replace their top three tacklers off of a defense which surrendered nearly 40 points a game last season.
Five starters return on the defensive side of the ball including Pickworth, Haag and Mongan.
Pickworth piled up 56 tackles last season and returns as the team’s leading tackler.
Haag led the team with four interceptions last season and added 42 tackles.
Mongan will anchor the defensive line in 2019 after piling up 38 tackles a season ago.
Bayley LaCroix and 145-pound defensive back Blaine Nicola also return after starting a season ago.
The Raiders will open the season with an afternoon game in Lincoln against Parkview Christian on Aug. 30. The Raiders beat Parkview 36-14 last season.
A week later, the Raiders will welcome defending state champion Johnson-Brock to town for a game.
The Raiders final regular season game will be on the road against rival Cedar Bluffs on Oct. 25.
Teams on the Raiders schedule combined to finish 36-37 a year ago and five of them made the playoffs.
“I feel pretty good about our schedule. I think we will be able to compete with everyone. I mean Johnson-Brock is going to be good, but I feel we are at a point where we can be competitive each week,” added Hickman.