RAYMOND – Raymond Central football head coach Wade Houchin can feel the needle moving in the right direction.
After a rough first season at the helm of the Mustangs, only two wins and a couple of 40-plus point losses, Houchin said he can see improvements across the board in year two.
The Mustangs have a young core of skill players returning highlighted by starting quarterback, sophomore Conner Kreikemeier.
“Conner did a nice job stepping up for us last year,” Houchin said about Kreikemeier. “He’s increasing his role as a leader and you can just kind of see the innate qualities that he has.”
Houchin said that like with many smaller schools he has had to cater his offensive scheme around the personnel on the team.
With that he said to expect to see the ball in the hands of his veteran QB and seniors Mikey McCoy and Ethan Boyd, junior Lucas Buresh and sophomores Travis Nelson and Logan Bryce.
Buresh, Houchin said, might be the best true receiver on the team, will pair with the small but speedy Nelson on the outside.
McCoy and Bryce will see significant carries from their respective wingback and running back positions.
Boyd will line up typically at tight end in an offense that Houchin said will not line up with a quarterback under center.
In the trenches, the Mustangs will be shorthanded with two players expected to vie for significant playing time out with injuries.
Senior Ryan Jelinek went down with a torn ACL at a camp this summer and is expected to miss the whole season.
Houchin said that he was expecting to get contributions from junior Skylar Stearns, but that a knee issue will keep him out for at least six weeks.
With the injuries and a shallow roster, Houchin mentioned that juniors Scott Tvrdy and Nolan Benes as a couple of guys who need to step up on both sides of the line of scrimmage.
Senior Branden Caraway started last year on the defensive line and should be a veteran presence on both sides this year.
When the Mustangs are on defense, expect to see a new 3-4 defense Houchin said he fell in love with this summer.
“We think (the new system) fits our kids well and it’s fun,” Houchin said. “We’re not traditionally going to be able to line up, from a height and weight and a body-type standpoint, and come at you and control gaps.”
Houchin said that fans should expect to see a pressure defense that relies on the team’s athleticism in lieu of size.
Raymond Central’s progress might be measured in other terms than wins and losses this year as they face a brutal schedule.
The first four games look to be winnable, with two coming against opponents the Mustangs beat last year.
Starting Sept. 26 the sledding gets tougher.
September ends with a date at perennial powerhouse Columbus Scotus. The Shamrocks are three-time state champs, winning Class C1 in 2015.
It only gets harder with the two schools from Wahoo, Omaha World-Herald preseason No. 2 Wahoo Warriors and No. 7 Bishop Neumann Cavaliers, sandwiched around a date with Hastings St. Cecilia.
The Bluehawks are a team that has only missed the state playoffs twice in 20 years.
The regular season comes to a close with a matchup with preseason #9 Columbus Lakeview. The Mustangs will be looking to avenge a 48-point shutout loss to the Vikings from a year ago.
Raymond Central will open their season at Douglas County West, Friday, Aug. 30. The Mustangs lost last year’s game to the Falcons 32-13.