COLUMBIA STATION — The Columbia Raiders still have the same green and white uniforms, but if you look carefully you might see something new: a big red bull’s-eye somewhere on their backs.
Columbia is coming off a season in which it won the Patriot Athletic Conference Stripes Division, hosted a home playoff game for the first time in school history and finished with a 10-2 record. With nine starters returning on each side of the ball, the Raiders will have the entire league looking to knock them off.
“This season we need to manage the higher goals and expectations we’ve set for ourselves,” Columbia coach Jason Ward said.
“We came in last season with lower expectations and we were able to exceed them. When you have this many guys returning from such a successful team, what you really have to guard against is complacency. It’s not a continuation of last season and our guys need to realize that everything we worked for last season is in the past and this is a new year."
Senior Dan Loub, a third-team Division V All-Ohio defensive tackle, said he and his teammates are ready to improve on last season.
“Now you have a lot of people who are seeing a common goal and we want to achieve that again,” said Loub, who led the Raiders last season with eight sacks to go along with 54 tackles.
“What we did last year put us in a position where we do have that target on our backs. Everyone wants to play us, to beat us and be in the position that we’re in. The expectations are higher but we have to take it one week at a time and focus on playing the best football we’re capable of.”
Loub is one of four returning All-Ohio selections on the Columbia defense. The others are first-team free safety Jay Banyasz, second-team cornerback Justin Reznik and third-team linebacker Jacob Kleinhenz.
Last year the Raiders’ defense gave up just 12.8 points per game in the regular season while holding five opponents to seven or fewer points. Ward doesn’t think it’s out of the question they can put up better numbers this season.
“This group is as physical as any we’ve ever had,” he said. “We’ve had a great offseason in the weight room. They have a nasty attitude and they take great pride in their preparation and what they do. They understand they were the main reason we were as successful as we were last year.”
Ward gives much of the credit for the team’s defense to veteran defensive coordinator Andrew Custar, whom Ward calls one of the “hardest working and most prepared coaches” he’s ever seen.
Columbia also has an offense that should be among the area’s best. The Raiders, who averaged 29 points per game a year ago, have Banyasz back at quarterback. All he did last year as a junior was complete 55.3 percent of his passes and throw 14 touchdowns. He was also the team’s leading rusher with 1,040 yards and 17 TDs.
Kleinhenz was second on the team with 641 yards and 10 touchdowns from tailback position, while Tyler Edisto was the leading receiver with 428 yards and four touchdowns. He will be joined in the receiving corps by fellow seniors Austin Walaszewski and Ben Verbus, each of whom had three touchdowns last season, and sophomore Jesse Lambert, who was second last year with 292 receiving yards.
“I think we can play at a higher level this year, picking up where we left off at the end of last season,” Kleinhenz said. “We feel like we have to be more humble. We can’t be overconfident because we know everyone is coming for us. We have a great coaching staff and they’ve worked hard to help us get to
where we are now. It’s a special feeling to be a part of this program.”
Contact Todd Shapiro at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
CONFERENCE: Patriot Athletic Conference, Stripes Division
2012 RECORD: 10-2, 7-0
COACH: Jason Ward,
8th year (41-32)
RETURNING LETTERMEN: 34
RETURNING STARTERS: 18
FAST FACT: Columbia is
19-2 in the Patriot Athletic Conference over the past three seasons.
Aug. 30 Independence
Sept. 6 at South Central
Sept. 13 Northwestern
Sept. 20 at Firelands*
Sept. 27 at Wellington*
Oct. 4 Fairview*
Oct. 11 Oberlin*
Oct. 18 at Lutheran West*
Oct. 25 at Brooklyn*
Nov. 1 Clearview*
All games at 7 p.m.
* Patriot Athletic Conference game