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Raptors work to replace talented senior class

Head coach Dan Fritze talks with the Raptors at the end of a team practice on Tuesday, Aug. 22, at East Ridge. Blaze Fugina / RiverTown Multimedia1 / 2
T.J. Kelly takes a handoff from Riley Tuckner during a team drill at East Ridge football practice on Tuesday, Aug. 22. Blaze Fugina / RiverTown Multimedia2 / 2

East Ridge head coach Dan Fritze did not have many hints about what his starting lineup might be during a team practice on Aug. 22.

With a team that does not have a lot of depth, the Raptors have avoided tackling drills during practice. He was banking on a Saturday, Aug. 26, scrimmage to help solve questions about who will start at positions on both defense and offense.

"We are mixing guys all over," Fritze said.

The Raptors are coming off a successful regular season where they finished 6-2 and won the East Metro Blue subdistrict title.

In last year's Class 6A tournament, East Ridge beat Lakeville South in the first round on Oct. 28. But the Raptors fell short in the next round against Champlin Park, nearly coming back from a 21-point deficit but missing a two-point conversion as time expired in a 35-33 loss to Champlin Park.

While the program has graduated most of its roster since last fall, the players have not hung their heads at the start of the season.

"There is still a lot of positive energy," senior T.J. Kelly said after the practice. "We keep building off what everyone else did and the previous year's captains."

A total of 23 seniors were listed on last year's roster. Many are now playing college football, including kicker Grant Ryerse and running back Dominik London who are now at the University of Minnesota.

"We had a big senior class last year and a very good senior class," Fritze said. "They will be really tough to replace."

Last year's offense, which averaged more than 30 points per game, was led by talented running backs London and AJ Tittle. Quarterback Ty Okada also rushed for at least 500 yards on the ground.

While the offense was very much run heavy next season, there could be a change in playcalling on the horizon.

"We've ran the ball because that's what we've had," Fritze said. "We do what we need to do, so our identity may change from year to year."

Most of the starters from last year's offense graduated this spring. On defense, one area with returning experience is the defensive line.

"We have a lot of D-lineman back," Fritze said. "Other than that, we've got a lot of guys that need to step in."

While there might be some growing pains, Raptors have placed faith in the coaching staff for helping figure out where each player will fit best.

"It's the same feeling because we have all the same coaches, and we're trying as hard as we can," Jaron Pittman said.

The Raptors will get a rematch with Champlin Park in the first game of the regular season on Thursday, Aug. 31, at East Ridge High School.

Blaze Fugina

Blaze Fugina is the sports editor of the Woodbury and South Washington County Bulletin newspapers. Previously, Blaze worked as a sports editor for the Pierce County Herald and a sports reporter for the Alexandria Echo Press. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls in May of 2011. You can follow Blaze on Twitter at @BlazeFugina.

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