The 2003 Central Lakes College football season will go down in the history book as one of the most trying in Dennis Eastman's six years of coaching football.
The Raiders started the season with barely 30 players on their roster. Then a number of injuries depleted CLC's roster. To protect any more players from getting hurt, Eastman and his staff contemplated throwing in the towel on the few remaining games.
CLC finished the season with a six-game losing streak and a 2-7 overall record. But more importantly, they finished.
In the offseason, the Raiders' coaching staff overturned every rock and looked in every nook and cranny across the state in search of football players. The results of the recruiting frenzy is a Raiders roster stocked with 54 players.
"Coaches Jim Gogolin and Lowell Scearcy went above and beyond in recruiting," said Eastman. "I think at one time, at the beginning of recruiting, we sent out over 400 letters to Minnesota kids. We started beating the bush.
"The reason we have these players is because of Gogolin and Scearcy. They did a fantastic job."
The Raiders open their season noon Friday in the MCCC Classic at St. Cloud State's new football stadium against the Itasca Vikings, a team CLC beat 8-0 last year.
Last year Eastman would go to practices and games with a cloud of stress hanging over him, wondering if he'd have enough players.
247, 28-Kickoff Classic at St. Cloud State University
4-at Hibbing 1:30 p.m.
11-RAINY RIVER 1:30 p.m.
18-at Mesabi 1:30 p.m.
25-VERMILION 1:30 p.m.
9-at Minnesota West 2:30 p.m.
16-FERGUS FALLS 1:30 p.m.
23-RIDGEWATER 1:30 p.m.
30-at Rochester 2:30 p.m.
13-State Championships at St. Cloud
"The stress is not as high and we also have some pretty good players," Eastman said. "We also have some size. It just feels so much better when we're out practicing, having the numbers around and not worrying about who's not going to show up this day or that day."
Eastman has handed the offensive reigns to assistant coach Jim Strohmeier, who plans to employ an aerial attack this season. Eastman will coach the offensive line.
There's also a three-way competition heating up for the quarterback spot between Corey Londeree, Mark Shilling and Nathan Oliver.
The Raiders should have the ammunition for a passing offense. LeRoy Howard, Brandon Hunter, Brandon Robinson and Lynn Chheang will anchor the wide receiver spots. Herbert Thompson and Chris Ezebunna will both see time at running back.
"We've got three good quarterbacks," Eastman said. "We've got good wide receivers. We're going to open up the offense and throw the ball a lot. We also want to put in a little more sophisticated offense. If people are interested in a passing offense that's what we're going to be."
One thing Eastman wanted to achieve this offseason was to recruit more size in the offensive and defensive lines. He did just that.
Joining 6-foot-3, 260-pound returning starter Brian Homan on the offensive line will be 6-8, 345-pound Jimmy Holmes, 6-4, 245-pound Paul Gerads, 6-3, 300-pound Josh Corrigan and 6-6, 232-pound tight end Nick Herriges.
Anchoring the defensive line in a 3-5 alignment will be 6-5, 296-pound Skyler Wilk and 6-5, 260-pound Ryan Hooykaas.
"We've got some size on the defensive line and that's something we haven't had in a long time," Eastman said. "We shouldn't get pushed around as much and opponents are going to have to do some more double teaming. Skyler and Hooykaas are the real things."
Despite the increase in the number of players, and the excitement surrounding the season, Eastman is mindful of setting attainable goals.
"We just want to do better than we did last year," he said. ".500 would be excellent. If we did better, then that would be a bonus. Are we going to win the state championship? Yeah, I'd love to, but in reality I don't know. I'm not going to set that as a goal right now."
TROY GUNDERSON can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5865.
2004 Raiders football roster
Matt Beehler 5-11, 210 LB (Milaca)
Brian Homan 6-3, 260 OL (Isle)
Tron Swanson 6-0, 220 DL (Pierz)
Ricky Valencia 5-10, 190 DB (Swanville)
Michael Bellamy 5-11, 240 DL (St. Paul)
Tyler Brockpahler 6-0, 175 DB (Sebeka)
Eddie Brown 6-2, 240 RB (Miami)
Paul Bushard 6-1, 210 LB (Crosby-Ironton)
Ryan Caravello 5-10, 180 DB (Orlando, Fla.)
Wyatt Carr 6-0, 200 TE (Verndale)
Lynn Chheang WR (St. Paul)
Josh Corrigan 6-3, 300 OL (Cottage Grove)
Chris Ezebunna 5-11, 225 RB (Baker, La.)
Derrick Fetters 6-1, 220 LB (Milaca)
Tony Flannigan 5-10, 162 RB (Colorado Springs, Colo.)
Paul Fox OL/DL (Pequot Lakes)
Terry Furbur 5-11, 160 DB (Becker)
Paul Gerads 6-4, 245 OL (Sartell)
Donnie Gonzales 5-7, 181 RB (Los Alamos, N.M.)
Tyler Hendrickson 5-10, 160 DB (Crosby-Ironton)
Nick Herriges 6-6, 232 TE (East Troy, Wis.)
Jimmy Holmes 6-8, 345 OL (Mount Dora, Fla.)
Ryan Hooykaas 6-5, 260 DL (Orillia, Ont.)
LeRoy Howard 6-0, 180 WR (Pembroke Pines, Fla.)
Brandon Hunter WR (Cincinnati)
Alex Kunesh 5-10, 175 WR (Onamia)
Glen Leith 5-11, 175 DB (Bloomington)
Core Londeree 6-1, 197 QB (Columbus, Ind.)
Shayne Milbradt 6-0, 185 DB (Sebeka)
Zach Nelson 6-0, 245 LB (Andover)
Nathan Oliver QB (Becker)
Cory Penz 5-11, 220 OL (Rochester)
Brandon Robinson 6-0, 175 WR (Cincinnati)
Robert Robinson RB (Pembroke Pines, Fla.)
Felipe Rosario K (Brazil)
Adam Schultz 6-1, 240 DL (Moorhead)
Mark Shilling 6-3, 190 QB (Juneau, Alaska)
Will Taylor 6-1, 180 LB (Park Center)
Herbert Thompson 5-9, 175 RB (Pembroke Pines, Fla.)
Josef Thompson 6-0, 171 WR (Sauk Rapids)
Alex Tillman 6-0, 210 LB (Richfield)
Adam Virtue 5-7, 170 DB/P (Winter Park, Fla.)
Derek Voss 6-0 185 DL (Pequot Lakes)
Matt Welinski 5-8, 150 DB (Upsala)
Skyler Wilk 6-5, 296 DL (Golden, Colo.)
Cody Wilking 6-0, 170 RB (Mankato)
Vernon Wilkins 5-11, 160 DB (Pembroke Pines, Fla.)
Paul Williams 6-0, 180 DB (Staples-Motley)
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