(New Buffalo, MI) - New Buffalo is where the home opener in high school football will be played Thursday night against arch-rival Bridgman.
The Red Arrow Raiders were formed when the high schools from New Buffalo and River Valley combined their programs for the 2021 season.
Head Coach Matt Johnson feels the team can be just as good, if not, better than last year’s New Buffalo squad, which had a winning season along with a post-season victory. River Valley did not field a team last year from being short on players.
Johnson said some of the players from River Valley are talented enough to provide more depth and positively impact this year’s squad.
“I think athletically, overall, we’re a little bit better,” he said.
Johnson said he expects last year’s quarterback, Michael Bombin, will start the season taking the snaps. However, the elusive Bombin racking up a ton of yardage running the ball last year is expected to share the quarterback duties at some point with Eli Thomas. Johnson said the goal of using both players at quarterback is providing more options for exploiting weaknesses in opposing defenses.
“Eli is going to get plenty of reps and, hopefully, as the season progresses he’ll get more and more reps,” he said.
New Buffalo lost at Bridgman last year in a high-scoring game that was close until the second half. Johnson hopes more talent on the field will make for a more competitive game against the Bees, who still have some of their high-impact players on offense from last season.
Johnson believes his front line on offense and defense is stronger from summer workouts and younger players like sophomore Cameron Forker being more experienced and physically mature. The return of bruising running back Ben Coffeen will also help on offense.
Johnson's goal is to build on the success of last year’s squad, which started strong then lost consecutive games until critical players lost for reasons like injury were able to return.
“The key is we got to be able to stay healthy deep into the season,” he said.
Johnson said combining the programs allows for a junior varsity team which gives players the ability to play at a more competitive level until they’re ready physically for the varsity. There are 24 players on the current varsity and junior varsity rosters.