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2011 Fall Preview: Experience-light East Ridge football team packs muscle, speed

Mike Pendino begins his second year as head coach of the Raptors this season.1 / 3
Marcus Kelly, a senior who plays both sides of the ball, is a two-time All-Conference player.2 / 3
East Ridge senior defensive back and running back Dayo Ogundepo will be among the leaders of the Raptors football team this year.3 / 3

Though short on experience, the Raptors are hoping some special off-season activities will translate into wins in the scorebook this fall.

This year East Ridge returns just six starters from 2010-11, having watched 30 seniors move on. Compare that with last year when the team fielded 21 of its 22 previous starters.

Knowing the challenge would be formidable in a conference stacked with talent, East Ridge coaches beefed up their strength and speed training, and threw in a Marine Corps-led training camp during the summer.

Raptors assistant coach Dan Myers said he thinks the activities went a long way toward creating bond among the youthful players.

"This group is a strong group," he said, "but that was a good way to come closer as a team."

The Raptors, 7-3 last year (6-2 in the Suburban East Conference), are led by head coach Mike Pendino, who enters his second season at East Ridge after spending eight years at Holy Angels Academy.

East Ridge kicked off the season Friday, Sept. 2, against perennial SEC powerhouse Cretin Derham Hall.

It doesn't get a whole lot easier from there.

The Raptors have two consecutive home games - one against Forest Lake, the other against Mounds View - before traveling to Woodbury in Week 4.

Myers called the early schedule "as tough as any stretch in the state."

"It's really going to be a good test for our guys," he said.

So just who looks to shine on the field this year for the Raptors?

Myers said likely standouts include lineman Marcus Kelly, cornerback/running back Dayo Ogundepo, fullback Austin Fischer, quarterback Brandon Johnson, running back Val Huerta and defensive back Lance Durand.

Gone are 2010-11 standouts Ezekiel Okeleye, Dayo Idowu, Justin Woodbeck, Adam Schwartz, Ryan Betz and Jake Hagen.

Kelly, a senior who plays both sides of the ball, is a two-time All-Conference player. Myers called him "as technically sound as any player in the state."

He said that at 250 pounds, Kelly has quick feet that help put him in good position at the scrimmage line.

"It seems he's in the right spot at the right time," Myers said. "It's really everything you want in a football player."

Ogundepo, meanwhile, is emerging as one of the top cornerbacks in the state, Myers said. Though he's only been playing football since 2009, Ogundepo - one of four East Ridge captains - will be a playmaker this year, Myers stressed.

"He absolutely is a shutdown guy," he said.

The other captains are Kelly, Brandon Johnson and Austin Fischer.

One of the team's biggest challenges, however, will be finding a true leader on the field, Myers said.

That's largely due to inexperience in a system where this year's crop of upperclassmen "haven't been thrust into a leadership position yet," Myers said.

"We have very good players, but they've never been counted on to be leaders - vocal leaders," he said. "We're still kind of waiting for that guy to jump up."

Myers said that while he expects to have a better idea where players stand after a grueling September schedule, he sees East Ridge starting out in the middle of the SEC pack.

He predicted Cretin to lead the way, followed by Mounds View, Stillwater and Forest Lake.

Myers said the Raptors look to rely on speed this year, in addition to added strength.

On the offensive side of the ball, Myers said fans should expect a solid mix of rushing and passing, with a slightly stronger emphasis on the run.

Johnson, a three-year starter at the quarterback position, is a "capable passer" who Myers added should be protected by a beefy offensive line.

An experienced and talented secondary looks to buoy the Raptors defense, Myers said.

He said opponents should expect an aggressive defensive attack.

"We want to dictate the pace of play," he said. "We're not a react defense. I think we have the personnel to execute this."

Assisting Pendino are coaches Dan Fritze (assistant head coach, quarterbacks), Adam Flanders (defensive coordinator, linebackers), Bryce Jones (defensive line), Myers (defensive ends), Gerry Suardini (secondary), Jim Basten (offensive line), Bret Brookins (receivers), Randy Spring (running backs), Jim Carver (defensive assistant), Stu Kancigor (sophomores) and Hans Horning (sophomores).