By TYLER HENRY
Lead Sportswriter - Salina Post
After making their first state championship appearance in program history to cap off a historic 12-1 2022 campaign, Boom Town is back and ready to rumble for what should be another thrilling season of football in Wamego.
Under head coach Weston Moody, the Raiders return a great deal of talent from their watermark-setting squad, especially on defense, where Wamego retains the services of six heavy hitters.
“Our defensive guys that are coming back have the most experience out of anybody,” Moody said. “I feel comfortable with where we’re at on both sides of the ball but it does help to have so many snaps back on defense.”
That unit will be anchored by Jackson Ziegler and Jake Meyer in the trenches, with a trio of linebackers returning in Wyatt Burgess, Gannon Couture, and Aidan Hefley, and Drew Pettay leading the patrol in the secondary.
Offensively, the Raiders will have to replace the all-league backfield of Colin Donahue and Hayden Oviatt, as well as a few of their favorite targets in Chase Cottam and Hagan Johnson, but the next man up mentality is strong in Boom Town, and concerns are at an all-time low.
“People will look at us and say that our offense is an unknown with several big guys not coming back but not a lot of people knew who Collin [Donahue] was last year either,” Moody said.
The biggest of those aforementioned holes will be filled by senior quarterback Pruitt Nolan, who brings a steady sense of veteran leadership in addition to his capabilities under center.
“Pruitt has been our JV quarterback in the past and he has a good deal of experience himself,” he said. “He’s every bit of 6-4, athletic, has a good arm, and understands our offense. He’s not going to have to learn on the job and as a senior, he knows what our expectations are.”
Nolan will be joined in the backfield by a stable of running backs, led by Thomas McIntyre, who finished just shy of 1,000 yards in 2022, Porter Smith, and Tate Warren, who differ enough in style to keep defenses guessing.
The receiving corps will see several new faces as well, as guys like Brock Weeks and Treytan Boekman look to step up and make an impact in the passing game right away.
The Raiders also return most of their offensive line from a season ago, with both tackles (Cooper Dow and Cody Mayer) back alongside their center (Brayden Fulton).
While Wamego will enter the 2023 campaign with high expectations, ranked fourth in the K-Preps preseason poll, the Raiders may find themselves in more real battles this year, after winning all eight of their regular season games by 27 or more points in 2022.
“Like with any season, the challenges will come when we face adversity which is something we didn’t really do until the last two weeks of the playoffs last season,” Moody said. “Our guys will have to get used to that as we figure out who slides into what role but everyone has a part to play and we’ll be able to adapt throughout the season.”
While some of the faces around Wamego have changed, the expectations have not, and the Raiders will be looking for an encore performance after shattering expectations a season ago.
“Every year these guys set out to reach the top and that hasn’t changed for us,” he said. “They know what they need to do to get there and that’s to take things one practice at a time, one play at a time, and one game at a time. We know we can’t get days back so we have to make the most of each and every one.”
The Raiders will kick off their 2023 season on Friday, September 1st when they travel to Clay Center to take on the #5 team in Class 3A at 7:00.