MEAD – A young Mead Raider football team found their way into the playoffs a year ago and was overmatched by a talented Hartington-Newcastle in the opening round of the Class D-2 playoffs.
Many of the players on the field that night return for the Raiders this season.
Mead Coach Terry Hickman enters his sixth season on the Raider sideline in 2020. He has compiled a record 19-24 and has led three teams into the postseason.
Hickman is still seeking his first playoff win as a head coach and with seven returning starters coming back on both sides of the ball it may happen this fall.
“We return a ton of experience, which we have done previously, but now the experience is in the junior and senior classes,” said Hickman.
The Raiders scored 34.6 points per game last season and the Raider head coach has reason to believe this year’s team will be even more explosive.
For the first time in his six seasons on the sideline, Hickman and the Raider coaching staff will benefit from the return of a starting quarterback.
145-pound sophomore Luke Carritt returns this season after good freshman season on the gridiron.
Carritt threw for 1,094 yards and 14 touchdowns and added four more scores on the ground.
“I think Luke will be a lot more comfortable this season. He had his ups and downs last season, but the experience he was able gain was valuable,” said Hickman.
Carritt will have a stable of capable backs behind him this season.
Juniors Caleb Lihs (160), Justin Else (150) and sophomore Beau Lacroix (180) are all expected to get carries this fall.
The trio combined for nearly 600 yards and eight touchdowns last season.
“All of those guys bring their own unique skill set to the position. It’s likely that they will all split carries,” Hickman added.
A deep set of receivers will be led by seniors Hunter Pickworth and Blaine Nicola.
Pickworth finished with 273 yards receiving and two touchdowns a season ago. Nicola also had two touchdown receptions.
Three starters return along the offensive line, including 250-pound senior Bayley Lacroix. LaCroix earned all-district and all-area honors last season and Hickman thinks that he has the potential to be an all-stater in 2020.
205-pound senior Cade Mongan is the team’s strongest player and has three years of starting experience along the offensive line.
170-pound junior AJ Carritt also returns after starting last season as a sophomore.
“Those three guys are really solid and we have some solid depth behind them,” Hickman added.
Senior Nick Laughlin (185) and juniors Collin Konecky (220) and Ben Grasiani (250) will also see playing time along the offensive line.
Improvement on the defensive side of the ball is almost certain.
Mead gave up 35 points a game last season, but with seven starters and good depth returning, that number should dip south.
A strong linebacking corps will be the strength of the Raider defense in 2020.
Hunter Pickworth, Mongan, Lihs and Beau LaCroix will be asked to fill and make tackles from sideline to sideline this season.
Their ability to make plays will be made easier by the fact that teams will have no choice but to double-team Bayley LaCroix.
Laughlin and AJ Carritt return this season after combining for nine tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks a season ago.
Nicola returns after starting in the secondary last season and Hickman feels like there are as many as five guys who could see playing time in the defensive secondary.
Navigating the 2020 schedule will be a challenge. Six of the eight teams, including the first four, qualified for the NSAA playoffs a season ago.
The Raiders will open the season on the road against Elmwood-Murdock on Aug. 28.
Games with Osceola (week 3) and Falls City Sacred Heart (week 4) will also provide a stiff test.
“The schedule will be a challenge. But, we feel like we are in a place to be able to compete with the teams on our schedule,” said Hickman.