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game. At least we got ….

game. At least we got …. game. At least we got ….

game. At least we got some games.”

“We won’t take any game for granted,” fellow co-captain Emett Grunwald said.

Needless to say with the talent and experience that returns, the Raiders onfi eld expectations haven’t changed. They come into the delayed and condensed season as overwhelming favorites in the Great Northern Conference and, despite some early injury issues, the Raiders will be disappointed if they don’t come out on top in November, if the league does safely get through the fall.

“You always want to qualify for the playoffs,” Medford head coach Ted Wilson said. “I don’t know what that means this year. Definitely every game is important, even if it’s nonconference. We just want to go out and perform and try to become better football players every week. If we do that, I think good things will happen. These kids deserve to be able to have some sports. They work really hard at it. Anything we can get is good.”

The Raiders got their first test on Friday, hosting quick scrimmage sessions with Stratford and Colby. Against each team, each squad got 20 offensive plays to shake off the rust and get the feel of game speed. Medford’s offense started slowly in its first handful of plays against both the Tigers and Hornets, but then couldn’t be stopped, scoring several touchdowns against both teams. The first-team defense shut out Stratford and gave up one score to Colby, before the Hornets did some damage against Medford’s reserves.

Now it’s on to the real thing this Friday as the Raiders open GNC play against the league’s newcomer, the Hayward Hurricanes, at 7 p.m. at Raider Field. The teams met last October in Level 1 of the WIAA Division 3 playoffs. Medford won 53-0.

An exciting part of Friday’s scrimmage was the explosiveness and diversity Medford showed with its first-team offense. All three touchdowns against Stratford came with passes as did a 40yard score against Colby. Three running backs gained chunks of yards, two quarterbacks threw scoring passes and a variety of players caught passes downfield. Those skill players, combined with an experienced, though banged-up offensive line, has Medford optimistic about its ability to score.

“It always starts with your offensive and defensive line,” Wilson said. “Having some returners come back into the offensive line is a big key. Hopefully they’ll keep working to get better. If you’re just as good as you were as a junior then you’re not progressing. Hopefully those guys will keep working. I know most of those guys are workers. I think that will happen.”

The initial plan was for a starting lineup of senior Jarod Jochimsen, senior Joe Gierl, senior Brody Doberstein, senior Abe Miller and sophomore Bryce Sperl from tackle to tackle, plus senior Blake Studinger was going to be a strong returning starter at tight end and senior Dalton Krug would’ve been in the rotation inside.

Krug, however, is a couple weeks away from returning due to a knee issue. Jochimsen, a second-team All-GNC pick last fall, and Studinger both got hurt in the scrimmage and will be out for some time. How the offensive line will look Friday might be a mystery up until game time. At the skill positions, the Raiders shouldn’t have to rely as heavily on one player as they did last year with Ean Wilson (2,183 yards and 29 rushing touchdowns). Senior Emett Grunwald, a first-team All-GNC choice with Wilson last year, senior Peyton Kuhn and junior Aiden Gardner all figure to get their hands on the ball a fair amount and blocking back Blaine Seidl could get touches too. Senior Nate Retterath returns after missing the second half of last year with a knee injury and sophomore Logan Baumgartner looks better after taking over for Retterath at quarterback. Both are expected to take snaps, but both are good athletes who Wilson is sure to use in various ways in his multitude of offensive formations.

Seniors Carson Church and Carson Kleist start out as the team’s top wideouts, while senior Riley Herman steps into a more prominent role at tight end. He had a 34-yard reception against Stratford Friday.

“Unfortunately, when Nate went down last year it kinda became a necessity to get the ball into Ean’s hands a lot more than I had actually planned for,” coach Wilson said. “I didn’t really plan for him to carry it a state-leading 354 times. That was never the plan or the thought. When your quarterback goes down and you suddenly throw a freshman into the fire, you have to protect that freshman in my opinion.

“We were going to try to get some more options involved,” he added. “We were trending that way, especially with Nate getting better and better. Now with two quarterbacks coming back and a lot more experienced, they look more confi dent back there. They look like they have a better grasp of what we’re trying to do. Hopefully that will be the case. A lot of those kids, Aiden, Emett, Peyton and Blaine, Carson Kleist and Carson Church, Nate Retterath can do a lot of different things. Hopefully we can spread it around a lot more and don’t have to rely quite so much on one person.”

Grunwald said the guys were excited to see how the offense clicked in the scrimmage.

“I think it was pretty fun because we got to throw the ball a little bit more than usual and we scored quite a bit,” he said. “We have two quarterbacks and they both can throw the ball really well. Everyone wants a chance to run the ball or get the ball.”

“We started off slow and then I think we got used to it, fixed some mistakes and then I think we did pretty well,” Seidl said.

Defensively, the Raiders expect to remain solid. They may be starting a unit consisting of entirely seniors, including first-team All-GNC picks from a year at each level. That includes Seidl, a linebacker and the 2019 GNC Defensive Player of the Year; Gierl, a first-team All-GNC defensive tackle, and Colton Surek, a first-team defensive back.

Kuhn becomes Seidl’s primary running mate at linebacker, something Seidl is excited about.

“We’ve been playing together at linebacker since we were really little,” Seidl said. “It’ll be just like the old days.”

Up front, Grunwald and Retterath are back at the end positions. Grunwald was another first-team All-GNC pick there last year and Retterath was on his way before getting hurt. Inside, the Raiders will have to replace the tenacity of the graduated Clay Bowe. Doberstein will see an increased defensive role, Krug should see time when he returns and look for a sophomore, Tukker Schreiner, to get some snaps as well.

Seniors Surek, Church, Kleist and Nate Doriot are the starters in the secondary. Medford allowed just 8.7 points per game last year and the first team wasn’t scored upon until week eight.

“For the most part, that group has looked pretty good,” Wilson said. “They flow well to the ball. I think our defense should be pretty good.”

“I think we’ll be just as good if not better than last year,” Seidl said of the defense. “I think we have a lot of experience starting on the defensive side of the ball especially. “We’re fast, I don’t think teams will be able to run on us very well.”

Tentatively, the regular season simply consists of seven games against Great Northern Conference teams. The WIAA has a two-week post-season built into the revised schedule but it is still unknown how that will work.

Mosinee was last year’s GNC runnerup behind Medford, while Rhinelander and Lakeland tied for third. Mosinee returns two dangerous receiving weapons in seniors Drayton Lehman and Cyle Kowalski while a third, Michal Dul, moves to quarterback, replacing GNC Co-Offensive Player of the Year Trey Fitzgerald. Rhinelander suffered some key losses in backs Drake Martin and Peyton Erikson. They bring back a solid senior quarterback in Quinn Lamers and an experienced offensive line. Lakeland lost most of its offensive production from a year ago.

Antigo, Ashland and Merrill will try to rebound from down years. Ashland’s roster is loaded with seniors, which could help the Oredockers surprise as they did in 2018 when they won the league. Hayward was a playoff team last year, but has some holes to fill at key positions.

“We’ve been getting a little better,” Wilson said. “There were some things at the scrimmage that we definitely need to fix. We need to make sure that our kids are stepping on that motto that they have to work to get better every day and working to become a better football player. Those other things take care of themselves when you concentrate on your job and what it takes for you to become better at that particular job. We’ll hopefully just keep trying to get better every day and those things will hopefully take care of themselves.”

“It’s very exciting,” Grunwald said of finally getting to opening week. “We’ve been waiting awhile to play our first game, especially our first home game. It should mean a lot to the fans and to the team. Since COVID, we’ve had to wait all summer long and we didn’t get to play in August. So it’s a big game.”