This week I debut a perennial power in the Suburban East Conference, the East Ridge High School Raptors out of Woodbury. I had a great conversation with Head Coach Dan Fritze who has been with the East Ridge program since the school was founded in 2009 and has been the Head Coach of the Raptors since 2015.
The East Ridge Raptors has been a program thru the ringer over its last 10 years of existence. Stripped of its conference title in 2013 and section title in 2014, and forced to vacate 17 wins from those seasons due to recruiting issues, they needed a new sheriff in town which is where Dan Fritze came in, to change the culture of the program which is not an easy thing to do especially in a football powerhouse like East Ridge.
This Year vs. Last Year
With finishing last year with a 5-3 record, the Raptors look ahead to the 2019 season to climb up the ladder even stronger. “No two years can be looked at the same” Fritze told me on Sunday. “You never know what to expect from other teams in the conference year by year as teams improve”. The Suburban East Conference is always built as one of the powerhouses in the state of Minnesota.
Overcoming the Hurdles: Senior Lead
A surprising number to take in, the Raptors will need to replace 28 seniors from last year’s team. Fritze stated to me on average they lose about 25 senior players per year. With having such a deep team at 55-60 kids, losing 25 roughly per year comes out to about replacing 51%-55% of your roster every year. “The biggest growth in players is from their junior to their senior year.” said Fritze. With that kind of growth, the average of 25 seniors per year lost, doesn’t seem like that big of a number.
Offensive Players to Watch
A player to watch for this season is tailback Kendall Moore, whose season was cut short due to injury last year. When healthy last year, Moore was on his A game with his YPC being at 6 yards. He has great college interest from: Minnesota, Northern Iowa, North Dakota and Georgia Tech just to name a few. At receiver the Raptors will depend on the height of Brody Kreisel (6’6) and Nolan Goetz (6’4), who both played in a limited role last year but their leaping ability should match well against smaller corners in the SEC.
Defensive Players to Watch
At middle linebacker, the Raptors will have Sam Haskins back as their man in the middle of the defense. He has great vision in between the tackles and makes sure every time that’s he’s in the knockdown tackler category. This line-backing corps might be one of the deepest in the conference with Kendall Moore back as well. In his short season last year, he had 30 tackles and 2 sacks which equals about 17% of East Ridge’s total sacks from last season (in only 5 games). For me, it’s hard to see a scenario where this defense isn’t creating turnovers, and building off this defense to be the top of the Suburban East.
Coaching Up the Young Guys
East Ridge Football has a great mentor in East Ridge alum, JC Hassenauer, who played offensive line for the Raptors, played his college football career for the Crimson Tide at the University of Alabama, and has played professional football in the defunct AAF now plays in the NFL for the Pittsburgh Steelers. “Set Goals, Attain Them” that’s the motivation Hassenauer gave those middle school football guys last week according to Fritze. Hassenauer has given back to the Raptor community greatly in mentoring the team even with his now busy NFL schedule which is a great to see as he is the most notable football player in Raptor history.
My East Ridge Raptors Prediction
I think East Ridge will definitely be one of the top 2 contenders to lead the Suburban East this fall. It’s been a common trend that East Ridge, Cretin-Derham-Hall Raiders and the Woodbury Royals will lead your top 3rd of the conference based on the last few years. Cretin is going thru a head coaching change with Brooks Bollinger, who stepped down this spring and now the Raiders have a new leader in Chuck Miesbauer, who is a Raider alum. With Kendall Moore fully healthy at tailback, the lengthy receiving core in Goetz and Kreisel, and the stacked returning line-backing core, East Ridge is is good condition to win the Suburban East this year.