With the first game week of the high school football season finally upon us, let’s take a closer look at the 2017 PHS varsity squad as they prepare to take on Ovid-Elsie Thursday night at home.
Last year the Raiders finished five and 0 in conference, and ten and one overall, with their season ending in the second round of the MHSAA playoffs.
With the exception of the quarterback, the entire starting offensive backfield from last year has graduated. Two-year starting slotback and 2016 All-Conference selection Logan Lefke is gone. He averaged 90.5 yards per game, and ran in 17 touchdowns in 2016. Head Coach John Novara describes Lefke as a “tough one to replace.”
Also gone are All-Conference fullback Gabe Schrauben, who averaged 66.5 yards a game and scored 11 rushing TDs, and All-Conference running back Kollin Carl who contributed eight touchdowns last year.
Both starting receivers, Treyvin Groesser and Brett Patrick, are gone as well. According to Novara, the 2016 receivers were “one of the best groups of receivers we have ever had.”
On the offensive line, the Raiders lost All-Conference guard Peyton Galey, who was named the team’s “Outstanding Offensive Lineman” in 2016.
“We are replacing all our skilled guys besides our quarterback, so a lot of guys are stepping into a new starting role.” said Novara.
On the defensive side, All-Conference defensive back Cole McGregor, All-Conference defensive lineman Hayden Maus and All-Conference honorable mention linebacker Griffin Hager are gone too.
But the 2017 Raiders are not starting from scratch. On the offensive side, 2016 All-Conference quarterback Austin Allison is back for his senior season. Allison threw for 1,413 yards and 13 touchdowns last year. Starting offensive lineman Jay Davids and Jacob Nowak also return.
On the defensive side, All-Conference linebacker Dean Battley returns, along with defensive end Jacob Hickling who had five sacks in 2016, and cornerback Gavin Dennany.
When asked about this year’s pre-season camp, Novara said “We’re a pretty young team. We have three returning starters on offense and three back on defense, so we’re kind of in a growing up process. It’s been a bit of a struggle early on. I thought we had a decent scrimmage, but we have to grow up really fast.”
Brock Gross saw considerable time in 2016 and is expected to be a key in the offense this year. Novara said Gross “Has some explosiveness to him.”
Novara added that “Gavin Thelen is going to be a two-way starter for us as a running back and also a defensive end. He had some time on the field also last year.”
Having not lost a regular season game in two seasons, I asked Novara if this meant the target on his back was bigger than normal. He said for 2017 the Raiders “amped up” their schedule a bit. Olivet and Hillsdale were dropped from the schedule and replaced with Lansing Sexton and Pontiac Notre Dame Prep. “I think our schedule is as tough as it has been since I have been here, so we know that there always is a target on our back, but also I think the kids have to be ready because we do have a tough schedule.” Said Novara.
While the Raider players may be a bit green, the coaching staff does not lack experience. Novara has a support staff that many head coaches would dream of. Assistant coaches Keith Schrauben, Jeff Brooks and Chris Schrauben all have impressive head coaching resumes of their own, and Novara says they are a “key to success.”
When asked for any other thoughts on the 2017 team, Novara added, “I was really happy with our off-season work. They spent a ton of time in the weight room and running. I was happy with all the participation. The participation was great. Everybody that is on our varsity team was there for all the workouts. I like our work ethic, I just think they have to grow up fast.”
The Raiders will host Ovid-Elsie on Thursday night starting at 7:00 PM.