It will be a bit of a rebuilding year for the Collins-Maxwell-Baxter football team, but the Raiders still have plenty of talent to make some noise in 2014.
CMB must replace star quarterback and leading rusher Zach Samson, second and third-leading rushers Gabe Schabillion and Zach Huffaker and leading receiver Austin Moorman off last year’s 4-5 team that just missed the playoffs for the second year in a row.
But all is not lost as CMB returns one of the top receivers in the entire state and has several talented younger players ready to step up this fall.
"Every new season is exciting because it is a new team with new players and new leaders," CMB head coach Rob Luther said. "I like our youth a lot and we have some really good seniors. It will be exciting to see how the veterans and youth mix and what our identity will be this season."
The leaders for CMB will be seniors Bryce Kemp and Patrick Girard.
Kemp, a talented and versatile 6-5 receiver, has given a verbal commitment to Division 1 school Eastern Michigan. Last season he was second on the team with 28 receptions for an impressive 604 yards - an average of 21.6 yards per catch - and a team-best 11 touchdowns.
Kemp will also help out defensively at linebacker after making 63 stops a year ago.
Girard will be back as one of the offensive tackles in 2A. Last season he also made 19 tackles on the defensive line.
"Our biggest strength is our top-end seniors," Luther said. "Bryce and Patrick are two of the top players at the position in the state in my opinion. Kemp has some full-ride offers on the table and Girard had a very good summer camp and I am sure he will be on the radar of colleges as the fall begins. Both of those guys are excellent students and young men."
CMB also brings back a pair of strong defensive anchors in linebacker Clayton Weltha and Nick Little, along with reliable kicker Joey Nissen.
Weltha made 85 tackles last year and Little finished with 59 tackles, four stops behind the line and a fumble recovery. Nissen converted 39 extra points and two field goals last season.
"Nick and Clayton will anchor our defense and have started a lot of games," Luther said. "They like to hit and are very aggressive. Joey is an outstanding kicker. Those five seniors are really talented."
The issues for CMB lie with depth and experience at its other positions.
"The challenges will be how quick our sophomores come along," Luther said. "We will start seven or eight of them. They are showing a lot now, but I have been in this a long time, and playing sophomores usually comes with some frustrating moments."
On offense junior Nate Bishop and sophomore Hunter McWhirter will battle to follow up Samson as the next Raider quarterback. Juniors Brady Stover and 6-4 Hunter Gunderson will join Kemp as starting receivers.
Stover caught 21 passes for 201 yards and two touchdowns in CMB’s high-octane spread attack last year. Gunderson made six grabs for 88 yards.
Senior Kyle Cather, junior Brad Ritter and sophomore Tucker Maxwell will fight for time as CMB’s other receiver.
Sophomore Blake Coughenour has been tabbed to start at tailback for CMB. Little will share carries in the backfield.
On the line, joining Girard at the other tackle spot, will be sophomore Archie McFadden. Senior Andrew Lindemoen will man the center position, Weltha takes up one guard spot and junior Brandon Brunner and sophomore Jason Hilgren will both see time as the other guard.
On the defensive front, CMB will have Girard, McFadden and senior Jon Engle. Hilgren, Ritter and Brunner will also rotate in up front.
CMB will use five linebackers. Weltha, Little and Kemp will lead the way and the other players looking to fill the other two spots will be Gunderson, junior Charles Robertson and sophomores Brady Kemp and Blake Coughenour.
In the defensive backfield, Stover will take up one cornerback position and senior Jake Hennick and Cather will fight for time at the other spot. Maxwell and Nissen will compete to fill the safety position.
In addition to his kicking duties, Nissen will also punt for CMB.
In non-district play, CMB will face traditional Class 2A powers West Marshall and Roland-Story and 3A rival Nevada. The Raiders are remaining in 2A District 7 following realignment, but the district will have a bit of a new look.
CMB will face familiar foes Albia, Davis County, Clarke and Prairie City-Monroe. They also renew an old district rivalry with North Polk and face a new foe in Centerville.
"Our district stayed intact for the most part," Luther said. "We’ll still have the four-team swing down south. We replaced Bondurant-Farrar and I-35 with Centerville and North Polk. Albia will be very good; then outside of the Blue Demons, the conference should be very competitive. North Polk is always very-well coached, PCM is always a tough out and we’ve battled Davis County in week 9 the past two years - at least we open with them this year. Centerville drops down from 3A and is an unknown."
Despite the challenging schedule, Luther said his team will have the same goals as always - to win a district championship, make the playoffs and then win a playoff game.
"I think those are attainable," Luther said. "But we need to get better defensively in a hurry. We have to feel like we will get a stop each series. But I like our attitudes and our hunger right now."
CMB opens the season at home on Parent’s Night against West Marshall on Aug. 29. The game is set for 7:30 p.m. at Maxwell.