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It has been eight seasons since the Toms River East Raiders had a record over .500, dating back to the 2009 team which went 10-1 including a Constitutional Division championship.

Now in his second season as head coach, Kyle Sandberg looks to steer the Raiders ship back towards the left side of the win-loss column.

His message to his players this season is simple: "stop telling me, show me". Everyone wants to end the losing but Sandberg says it's about executing.

"A lot of people are waiting to see a different outcome, 'so show us that you've changed, show us your mentality, your effort, your attitude and that you care'," Sandberg said. "And that's something they understand."

"They've got to trust the process," said Sandberg. "They understand that they have to listen to what we are saying. What you did last year and doing it your own way doesn't work."

While losing 14 seniors to graduation after last season compared to 22 seniors the year before, there were a lot of sophomores and juniors who saw significant varsity playing time last season. Sandberg feels that experience of playing and mastering the playbook will pay dividends this year.

"This year I'm excited about who I have coming back. They understand my mentality, my philosophies and what we're looking to do," said Sandberg. "I'm excited for these kids though because they are hungry. It's been a long time since we've won here in the regular season."

It takes time to turn things around towards not only winning games, but then a division and one day competing for a state title. Sandberg says changes are coming.

"I want to see us do well both offensively and defensively," said Sandberg. "Tackling needs to change and just the whole defensive atmosphere and that's how you win games. The offense has also changed and we're doing different things now."

Among the changes is the offense moving away from the Wing-T formation to a two-back pistol while the defense will change from a multiple set look to a 4-3 formation.

Another sign things may turn out differently this season is Sandberg saying that there are no returning starters from last years team, which means open competition for every position on the field. Anyone who did start last year will have to earn their job back by.

"Everything out here is an open competition, no one's entitled anymore, those days are done," said Sandberg. "They need to come to work and prove that they want to be here and win, and win a job."

"We have to stay the course this year," said senior Louie Gallo. "When things have gone wrong, we tended to deviate from the plan. If we follow the coaches and stay together as a unit, we've got a better shot this year."

They have another tough schedule ahead in Class A South, but Sandberg says it's about taking it one game at a time and that the players always give their best.

"Our goal is to come together and win," said senior Evan Otten.

"We can get back to winning by working hard everyday, like we've been doing in the offseason and preseason," said senior Matt Gannon. "I can really see the difference in how serious everyone is this year compared to the last few years. Everyone's coming in every day ready to work and looking to get better."

"We've grown a lot closer as a team," said senior Peter Wilenta. "In part because a lot of us grew up together playing with the Angels (Pop Warner team) and along with the new kids, we've become tight friends."

"We can do a lot more this year because we're much more of a team this year," said senior Steven Kontogiannis. "Last year we were just individuals, but this year we're playing more as a team."

"I think with all the speed and skill players that we have, we can put some points on the board and win some games," said senior Jack Goodall.

Central Regional is one of those teams on the schedule and it's their week one matchup at Vincent J. Dvorak Field. After last seasons contest became heated, Sandberg says the bad blood is no more.

"That's done, that's in the past," said Sandberg. "The coaches and the administration at Central were great as it was here. You've got to move on. It's not motivation, it's done. We don't event talk about it anymore. We ended that right after it happened."

Head Coach: Kyle Sandberg, second season.

Career Record: 0-9.

2016 Record: 0-9 (0-7).

Assistant coaches: Mike Nemeth (off. coord.); Matt Madeo (RB); Tim Gilmartin (OL); Vinnie Arminio (WR); Frank Giannetti (DL); Joe Arminio Jr. (freshmen head coach); Eddie Goodman, Kevin Kanarkowski (freshmen); Jake McCartney (athletic trainer).

BIG SHOES TO FILL: Linebackers

While it looks to be a mix-and-match situation in the linebacking corps, this set of linebackers will seek to collectively fill the void left by Jake Gilligan who graduated after last season.

X-FACTOR: The entire team playing as one

Sandberg says last year, "we had a lot of individuals, we had a lot of kids that tried doing their own thing because they wanted to get a W." He says if they execute "heart and will and desire" they'll turn the corner towards getting some wins this year.

GLUE GUY: Tommy Ferrante, Sr., FB/LB

The senior running back and linebacker has been on the varsity team all four years of high school and is one of its most dynamic athletes. With Ferrante's leadership and the hunger to win, Sandberg says he could be one of the seniors who helps lead the way to victory.

IMPACT NEWCOMER: Marc Rothman, Sr., FB/LB

Rothman is one of the players who continued to impress the coaching staff following last season and into the preseason. If he continues to develop the way they see, Rothman and Ferrante could make for a solid duo and be a real strength on the defensive side.

PIVOTAL GAME: Sept. 8 vs. Central

The Raiders will take on the Central Regional Golden Eagles in Week 1 where they will seek their first divisional win in three years. An upset here could mean a huge momentum shift towards steering the Raiders ship back to winning.

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Vin Ebenau is a Shore Sports Network Contributor. You can follow him on Twitter @VinEbenau. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.

 

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