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College Football: Raiders favorite to repeat as Eastern Division champions

Central Lakes College running back Nyassinu Crowell prepares to receive the handoff from quarterback Jake Franklin during practice Tuesday, Aug. 28, at Findorff Field. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

Armed with a returning running back and offensive line, the Central Lakes College Raiders begin the 2018 campaign at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 1, against Minnesota West at the Findorff Athletic Complex.

The Raiders are the pre-season pick to repeat as Eastern Division champions but they were picked by a tight margin over Mesabi Range, which returns a solid defense, and over Rochester, which updated its coaching staff during the off-season.

"We are intent on developing young men here, preparing them for success on and off the field, and cultivating positive relationships," CLC head coach Greg Medeck said. "We were very intentional about our camp structure and taught more this year than ever before. I am hoping these experiences and learning opportunities will apply on Saturday afternoons, but more importantly, in the other areas of life where our young men are developing essential skills.

"In the past two weeks, the team has engaged in community service activities with the Confidence Learning Center, completed a team book study, hosted team competitions and we toured the Brainerd community, all with the intention to develop skills and relationships that will transcend the football field."

Medeck enters his 12th year as the Raiders' head coach with an overall record of 97-25, including an 8-2 finish and a first-place finish in the Eastern Division in 2017.

On the field, the Raiders will be led by four captains and other returning players who were part of the team that came up just short in the semifinal state playoff loss to eventual state champion Northland last season. Captains include Emmanuel Smith, Will Peabody, Nyassinu "Nuke" Crowell and Anthony King.

"Emmanuel is a returning starting left tackle and the nicest young man you will ever meet," Medeck said of one of his four team captains. "He's a top student, involved on campus, and a terrific football player. He will certainly anchor our offensive line.

"Will is a returning wide receiver and Brainerd High School grad. He's an extremely hard worker that models everything that is good about college athletics. He leads by example in his preparation, practice methods and attention to detail. Will starts at our 'Y' position and should resume his role as a clutch receiver.

"'Nuke' Crowell returns after leading us in rushing in 2017. He's our vocal leader who holds the attention and respect of the team. Nuke works as hard as anyone and has incredible talent as well. He should be a top-tier running back in the MCAC.

"Anthony is one of the few holdovers on the defensive side. He's passionate and engaged as a student-athlete at CLC. He will probably be the face of the defense this year with his motor-that-never-stops approach. He's a natural leader who is sure to spark our young defense."

In 2017, the Northland Pioneers—behind NJCAA All-American Shannon Patrick, the leader in yards nationally with an average of 375 per game—won the state championship after staging a comeback win over the Raiders in the state semifinals. As the 2018 season starts, Medeck likes the pieces he has to go with Crowell to provide a high-powered offense.

"Wide receiver Jordan Thompson, a returning player from 2017, is a special young man that is poised for a breakout season," Medeck said. "He's a terrific student and a top threat in our receiving corps. I am really looking forward to watching him take a big step this year.

"Our entire offensive line, in addition to Emmanuel Smith; Kulani Sylva, Collin Olson, and Zion Owens, all return as starters from 2017. Add in Seth Johnson, who played in a reserve role last year, and that should be a strength for us this year."

Medeck has also had competition at quarterback this preseason with three players competing for the starting spot.

"Jake Franklin, a transfer who won a highly contested competition in camp, brings great leadership and maturity," Medeck said. "He will definitely elevate our passing game this year."

Last year, Crowell finished 20th in the nation in rushing with an average of 88 yards per game, and the Raiders' passing attack ranked 31st nationally.

On defense, the Raiders gave up only 60 rushing yards a game, and 270 yards per game overall in 2017, but they will have a younger defensive unit this year.

Key games on the schedule include a collision with division foe Rochester at home Sept. 22, with a trip to Mesabi the following week.

The Raiders will travel to North Dakota State College of Science for their first regular-season matchup against the Wildcats in Week Two. The Raiders defeated NDSCS in the state championship game two years ago.

Northland is the preseason No. 1 pick in the Western Division, but CLC will not face the Pioneers in the regular season.

"I am excited about the league this year," Medeck said. "There's a lot of strong contenders and we will certainly have a lot of great competitions. The beauty of the MCAC is that each year presents new identities across the board and any one team can challenge for the title. It will be fun to see how the season plays out."

Each team is different and players come and go at a two-year community college, but all players that put on a Raider uniform have a commonality that brings them all together.

"We talk at length about leaving a legacy during your time as a CLC Raider," Medeck said. "This group appears ready to embrace that challenge and represent Central Lakes College, Raider football and the community of Brainerd."

Raiders schedule

Head coach: Greg Medeck—12th season

Sat. Sept 1: Minnesota West 2:30 p.m.

Sat Sept 8: at North Dakota State College of Science 1:30 p.m.

* Sat Sept 15: at Vermilion 1:30 p.m.

* Sat. Sept 22: Rochester 1:30 p.m.

* Sat. Sept 29: at Mesabi Range 1:30 p.m.

* Sat. Oct 6: Itasca 1:30 p.m.

* Sat. Oct 13: Fond du Lac Tribal at Cloquet 5 p.m.

Sat. Oct 20: MN State Fergus Falls 1:30 p.m.

* Eastern Division: Central Lakes, Fond Du Lac, Itasca, Mesabi Range, Rochester, Vermilion

Raiders roster

No., Name, Pos., Year, Hometown

4-Dan Griep, QB, 1, Minnetonka

6-Jake Franklin, QB, 2, Colleyville TX

12-Josh Prahl, QB, 1, Litchfield

13-Gabe Spah, WR, 1, Elk River

14-Will Peabody, WR, 2, Brainerd

15-Talon Bradley, WR, 1, Minneapolis

17-Tanasi Reed, WR, 1, Carlisle OH

19-Jaron Moor, RB, 2, Williston ND

20-Quentin Skinner, DB, 2, Minneapolis

21-Nyassinu Crowell, RB, 2, Westland MI

22-Marnez Trotter, DB, 2, Cottage Grove

23-Trae Martin, RB, 1, Oakdale

24-Stephen Gibson, DB, 1, Chicago

25-Mekhi Besseck, DB, 1, Minneapolis

27-Keywon Jackson, DB, 2, Brainerd

28-Ridge Reed, RB, 1, Carlisle OH

29-Isaac Ammoussou, DB, 2, Brooklyn Park

31-Raphael Ortiz, DB, 1, Hewitt

32-John Gaughan, DB, 1, Buffalo

34-Kyle Hereford, RB, 1, Beloit WI

35-Jaiden Wangstad, DB, 1, Bagley

36-Ryan Pribnow, LB, 1, Big Lake

37-Kyle Thorson, LB, 1, Leonard MN

40-Daylon Puckett, LB, 1, Laramie WY

41-Gabriel Magalei, LB, 1, Hermitage TN

43-Eli Winegarner, LB, 1, Deerwood

44-Jacob Neeland, LB, 1, Solway

45-Braden Tyrrell, LB, 1, Staples

47-Collin Wilcox, LB, 1, Elk MN

48-Laquan Johnson, LB, 2, Coon Rapids

51-Kyle Schmidt, LB, 1, Nevis

52-Ivory Jones, LB, 2, Minneapolis

54-Lutherking Marc, DL, 1, Mankato

55-Isaak Hines, DL, 1, Brainerd

56-Luke Ristau, DL, 1, Preston

57-Logan Veo, OL, 2, Osage

58-Deontae Miller, DL, 1, Maple Grove

59-Ryan Brakefield, DL, 1, Cologne

63-Seth Johnson, OL, 2, Louisville KY

66-Demetrius Isabell, OL, 1, Seattle

67-Eric Williams, OL, 1, Victoria

68-James Gaida, OL, 1, Browerville

69-Kulani Sylva, OL, 2, Mililani HI

70-Anthony King, DL, 2, Green Bay WI

71-Colton Juetten, DL, 2, Milaca

74-Zion Owens, OL, 2, Zion IL

76-Emmanuel Smith, OL, 2, St. Paul

77-Collin Olson, OL, 2, Rock Falls IL

78-Mike Villarreal, DL, 1, South St. Paul

80-Jordan Thompson, WR, 2, Oakdale

83-Mike Bostrom, WR, 1, Baxter

84-Zach Severtson, WR, 1, Park Rapids

85-Cameron Whitney, TE, 2, Circle Pines

87-Noah Burchardt, TE, 1, Milwaukee

88-Jacob Harvey, WR, 1, Long Prairie

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