The Markham Raiders are back with a new image and high expectations.
Overcoming a recent past of tense attitudes, hostile relationships and questionable commitments amongst the city’s football community, the franchise is heading in a new direction under second-year Head Coach Anthony Tombler.
“It took a season of seeing what we had,” says Tombler. “We played a game with only 17 players last year… but we changed our attitude and we’re building on that now.”
After a season where the Raiders managed just two wins in eight games, and allowed over 100 more points than they scored, the future looks much brighter than the past in Markham.
For starters, registration is up and the varsity team will have enough manpower to avoid double-shifting offensive players on defence and vice-versa. Furthermore, the Raiders will welcome back a strong contingent from last year’s team that set the tone for the organization’s new direction.
“We are a veteran team, that core from last year has returned to lead,” says Coach Tombler. “They know how we do it and can become an extension of the coaching staff, there’s a lot of leadership.”
Last year, the Raiders relied heavily on the pass. Quarterback Aaron Nelson will return to lead the team both on and off the field with his energetic approach and strong arm. But after making improvements to the offensive line and the backfield, the Raiders are hoping to establish a more balanced attack.
Graeme Ward and Nick Morassut will carry the load in the backfield. Both players share similar qualities and are strong runners. Ward prefers to run defenders over, while Morassut prefers to make a move and create a miss.
“They compliment each other greatly,” says Coach Tombler. “They play the same style of football but each bring their own flavour.”
Offensive lineman Preston Baird is a seasoned player with great experience. Coach Tombler identifies him as a leader and he’s hoping Baird can build off a solid 2011 campaign.
As for the defence, the Raiders hope to field a disciplined but aggressive group that go hard for the ball every play but invest a lot in intelligence.
“We’re not going to hope for the best, we’re going to be smart and establish a good flow,” says Coach Tombler.
Austin Splitaro will patrol the secondary, a strong player in coverage who aggressively goes after balls in the air. DT Kyle Lees and LB Anthony Scimeca will also play big roles on the defence.
Although the Raiders will be heavily relying on their veterans, a couple new faces should make a big impact in the team’s progress.
Austin Spilotro is poised to be a standout rookie at wide receiver as one of Nelson’s top targets, and Frank Bartella, the new nose tackle, made huge strides during winter practices and should be ready to start this weekend.
The team also boasts a strong coaching staff, with an experienced coach for every position and plenty of CIS experience in order to help the players ready their technizue for the next level.
The Raiders play the Cumberland Panthers on opening weekend, who are traditionally a strong team.
“We’re coming out with a lot more than anyone’s seen us with yet,” says Coach Tombler. “We’ll show everyone on the field that we’re going to play some hard nosed football.”