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Racine Raiders

Racine Raiders: Deep, talented team ready to rev up the 2019 season

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As Wilbert Kennedy discussed the sixth edition of the Racine Raiders on Thursday afternoon, one thing became increasingly clear: With one exception — quarterback — this team has an embarrassment of riches.

Kennedy had been talking in depth about how an offensive line that had been thin in depth the last few seasons has become a team strength. He mentioned that there was a deep pool of wide receivers and that running back Howard Triplett, who was lost for the season last Aug. 4 with a serious leg injury, looks better than ever.

And then Kennedy caught himself. He hadn’t even mentioned the defense yet.

“We’ve got to talk about the other side of the ball,” he said. “We’ve got some serious depth at defensive back. Our defense had looked real good in practice, so I’m really looking forward to this year.

“The schemes we’re running on defense this year and the pieces we have, I’m real encouraged.”

The one area on the team that lacks depth is at quarterback, where only three-year player Mitchell Farr and 37-year-old veteran Tony Henner are competing for snaps. Otherwise, this could be one of the deepest, most talented teams Kennedy had had since becoming head coach in 2014.

It starts with the offensive line, a chronic concern for Kennedy because of a lack of depth. While the Raiders lost Isaiah Trussell, an immediate standout at left tackle last season to the Champions Indoor League, Kennedy suddenly has an abundance of talent.

Jordan Gallagher, a first-team Associated Press All-State lineman for Horlick as a senior in 2017, has joined the team and is being plugged into Trussell’s old spot.

Matt and Nick Nelson, the sons of Raiders president Matt Nelson, have joined the team. So has Thomas Smith, a 6-foot-3, 300-pound lineman who played for North Dakota State College of Science.

There are established holdovers Caleb Gwin, Michael Nikolai and Ryan Gails, who are Racine Lutheran graduates. What’s more, Trussell has informed Kennedy he will return to the Raiders after the Salina Liberty’s schedule concludes by early July.

Gallagher prefers playing guard and Kennedy envisions moving him inside once Trussell returns.

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“We’ve got another young man we picked up last week named Thomas Smith who is very similar to Trussell size-wise,” Kennedy said. “He has a lot of skills.

“Where we were struggling with offensive linemen, now it seems like we have an abundance of them. And we have good size. Whenever Trussell comes back, we’re going to have a real good offensive line,”

There’s a similar situation at wide receiver. Jordan Payne, the Raiders’ most productive receiver last season, also went to the Champions Indoor League, but Kennedy said he may return in July.

Joining such holdovers as D.J. Smith and Brandon Smith are Terrence Fitch, Brandon Blanke, Lawrence Peters and William Norwood — all former Raiders who have decided to return this season. Kennedy has also signed Bryce True, a former standout with the Rockton Rush, who folded after last season.

“We’re pretty stacked at receiver, as usual,” Kennedy said.

Especially after not playing last weekend because flooding in Missouri prevented the Chilliclothe Swarm from travelling to Racine, Raiders players are anxious to get started.

“These guys are starving,” Kennedy said. “It’s been a rough spring practice with all the rain, limited practices ... we went a span without helmets because they were getting painted, so our practices have been limited. We’ve only had a couple days of hitting.

“So the guys are excited.”

The Raiders will likely be tested early since Saturday’s opponent, the Grand Rapids Seminoles, are an established team. Their only loss — 25-24 to the Kalamazoo Titans — came on a last-second field goal.

“I really think this is going to be a good, good test for us for a first game,” Kennedy said.

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