This article is written by Journalism student, Rheia Schall.
Last year the U-32 Raiders football team ended the season with an overall 1-8 record. After losing a lot of talented seniors, the Raiders did not expect to pull together the 2023 season with an overall 4-4 record before heading into the playoffs. The playoffs took a hard hit on the Raiders knocking them out in the first round losing to Colchester 0-36.
Several injuries and poor weather affected this year’s turn out but the Raiders charged through the season. They put their best effort into every game. “I think we kind of just worked together. We all wanted to win a couple of games at least from last year,” said Hunter Bove, A Harwood senior on the U-32 football team.
The preseason took a different start this year with choosing to train more often. Kevin Richards, the head coach of the U-32 Raiders football team scheduled a couple more training sessions at the beginning of the season starting the team off stronger and more connected. “We had to be here for maybe seven hours straight. The team really bonded together when we had to wait in the locker rooms on hot days. I definitely got a lot closer with the upperclassmen from U-32,” said Hunter.
“We trust each other on the field so it’s easier to work together,” said Hunter. Coach Kevin helped enforce more training for the team. His goal was to have more repetitive workouts. “I think he really tried to step up the practices from this year to last. Definitely a lot more conditioning, more repetitive workouts so each day we kind of go over the same things to make sure that we’re pretty strong in that category of things,” Said Hunter.
With the shift of the schedule to include more training, there was also a physical shift with the growth of younger classmen. “Looking at our roster we have acknowledged we have a very large sophomore class, so those sophomores are contributing to the team right now in a big way. I think each grade level has very strong players,” said Kevin.
Many of the younger classmen have been stepping up and filling positions that get them more involved in the game. “I think everybody grew up a little bit. We’ve stopped relying on our seniors so much,” said Shane Curtin, a Montpelier senior football player for U-32. Last season, the team was very young, putting a lot of freshmen and sophomores in high-role positions on the varsity team.
“We have a couple of freshmen who are close, and so we inserted them in varsity roles. Those freshmen were a little bit more prepared to step into those roles this year,” said Kevin.
Having a young team can make things challenging for a coach, but with the new defensive coordinator, Steve Sheeler, many of the younger players are putting more trust into the team and themselves.
“I think Steve gives great voices. I think his approach to the game is pretty refreshing. Oftentimes your average coach will be more focused on the physical side of the game and Steve focuses more on the mental side of the game. Winners mentality,” said Shane.
Steve has had a lot of impact on the team and players this year. “I think he’s a great coach. I really like his defense. I think that he brought a new defense that was pretty effective this year. His defense and the calls he has made, created a lot of opportunities for interceptions and turnovers which helped us in the closer games,” said Hunter.
Steve’s new ideas have helped make sure this year that teams have to run the ball and not just throw over the Raiders to gain yardage and touchdowns. “I think last year, a lot of teams could just throw the ball over us and get touchdowns that way. This year we did really well on stopping the passing game,” said Hunter.
Steve comes from a football family and was an All-American Athlete in college. “[He] likes to let his hair down. Go wild and let the defense kind of do the same, you know, run around like crazy. That’s a fun way to play football,” said Kevin. Steve tries to keep things light on the field and in practice. “There’s a purpose to all the things that we’re doing in practice, you can make those fun,” said Steve. Steve has been a huge asset to the team and has really helped the Raiders improve this year’s defense.
Along with a new shift in defense, the U-32 Raiders also have a new simpler offense this year. The offense gives more targets for the quarterback Charlie FiztPatrick to throw to, opening up for extra yardage. “I know every step they’re gonna take, I know what they want me to do and I’m going to put the ball in their hands,” said Charlie Fitzpatrick, a sophomore from Northfield who plays on the U-32 football team.
Many of the players are returning players who have had time to learn each other’s movements on the field.“There is definitely a returning squad. We probably had 60 guys last year and this year we have 40 but it’s guys that score touchdowns,” said Charlie.
Many of the younger players look up the the seniors for setting the game and pace. “He’s [Hunter Bove] a guy I really look up to, and really wanna play well for,” said Charlie. Charlie said, “He’s just a guy that lights the mood in practice.”
Another player that many of the teammates look up to is Aiden Boyd, a junior football player at U-32. “We might be in a serious talk and I look over and he’s making a funny face,” said Charlie. These players are able to lighten the mood for the team which takes the pressure off of the game.
The U-32 Raiders football team has improved in many ways compared to last year’s season. “I think a lot of people would say that this past year was a much more rewarding experience, and a fun time to be around.”