The rebuilding process for any team takes a long time to turn things around and as Kyle Sandberg enters his fourth season as head coach at Toms River East, he's encouraged by the progress he has seen on the field and is expecting more out of his players in 2019.

"We want to compete and I think we've done that in the past three seasons and now we're trying to improve on what we did last year. We've gotten better every year and this year we want to finish and get more wins," Sandberg said. "We have to be more physical and I think it's a culture thing and I think we're building on that."

The Shore Conference Executive Committee's realignment in the offseason to move 25 of the 43 teams into new divisions is now bulletin board material for the struggling Raiders, who haven't been able to finish games.

"We've been building. We're trying to get it done this year and make a statement to the Shore Conference," Sandberg said. "I think that if our kids want to get back to those divisions like Class A South where we're playing teams like Brick, my message to them is to win. We have to do better and we have to be respected more. If you want to be in those big divisions then you have to win more games."

From left to right: Yusuf Ahmed, Frankie Giannetti, Mike Goodall, Anthony Kontogiannis and Alex Smith of Toms River East (Photo by Steve Meyer)

Player to Watch: Frankie Giannetti (Sr. FB/MLB 5'10, 200)

This senior has been one of the heart and soul members of the Raiders the last few seasons because of his work ethic, the way he carries himself and the smash 'em-crash 'em style of play. He's one of the Raiders lead running backs and will have to have a gaudy season to guide East to a winning one.

"He's been an anchor for us the last couple of years and had a great junior season for us but now we need him to take it to another level," Sandberg said.

Player Under the Radar: Yusuf Ahmed (Jr. RB/DB 6'0, 195)

The Raiders are a team with speed and quickness and while they've struggled to put enough points on the board, the strength of their offense is in the running game. Ahmed joined the team during his sophomore season, playing primarily defense, but in 2019, he's playing both ways.

"He's really panned out, he's worked very hard in the offseason and we're excited about him," Sandberg said.

Area of Strength: Running Backs

The running game has been historically strong for East, which has featured premier players like Kevin Davis and Nico Steriti. Over the last couple seasons, the Raiders have found the most success in the running game with players like Giannetti and fellow senior Alex Smith. There's speed and quickness in the backfield and it's a big reason the Raiders are able to put points on the scoreboard.

Toms River East will be successful if…

The skill players exceed expectations. The Raiders lack size on both sides of the line and are bolstered by their skill players. If the Raiders are truly ready to rip off the underdog label and enhance the perception of their team, they must run the ball well, catch the ball well and limit any opposing player from getting by their secondary, which needs to increase speed and improve reads, especially late in games.

Being The Underdogs

The Raiders shift to the Freedom Division eager to change other's views. There's a chip firmly on the shoulder of every coach and player, chomping to put together a campaign that would vault them upwards. All that's necessary is confirm their improvement against the schedule. And, a strong showing against non-division opponents like Howell in Week 1 wouldn't hurt the cause.

Tap Experience

East has plenty of it. There are nine returning starters back on each side of the ball.

Weather the seas

The Raiders have been sailing through troubling waters for the last several years battling the Kraken (the top tier Shore Conference teams), which has put a crimp in finding consistent winning tides. They toiled to turn that around, yet the Kraken remains stronger. For the Raiders to be attain what they desire, they need to lift more, read better on defense and focus on the game at hand. If the product improves, the victories will come and the Kraken will be a threat no more.

At A Glance

HEAD COACH: Kyle Sandberg, 4th season

CAREER RECORD: 5-24

2018 RECORD: 3-6

ASSISTANT COACHES: 

Joe Arminio Jr.

Vinnie Arminio

Dan Cicala

Tony Durkin

Frank Giannetti

Matt Madeo

Jake McCartney (Athletic Trainer)

OFFENSE: 2 Back Pistol

DEFENSE: Multiple

BIG SHOES TO FILL: Vinny Cresho (Sr. DL 6-3, 295)

The senior lineman has some of the most size on the team and gives the Raiders  muscle, timely considering they bid farewell to Liam Meakem, who played in the Shore Sports Network All-Shore Gridiron Classic. Cresho will have to be a leader on the D-Line in order for the Raiders defense to receive a boost in an area where they've struggled the last few seasons.

X-FACTOR: The Skill Players

These players will have to fuel the Raiders on their backs in order for the team to be successful and win more games this season. This is one of the premier strengths and will be leaned upon as a key for East to succeed.

"We have a lot of experience in the skill positions and we're pretty excited about that heading into this season," Sandberg said.

IMPACT NEWCOMER: Justin Tucker (Sr. OL/DL 6'4, 240)

While the Raiders return a lot of their players from last season, there are still holes to fill by guys counted on to open some. The line has been a point of emphasis with the intent to elevate the presence in the trenches. Tucker is a newcomer who could have a big impact on both sides of the ball for a maturing line.

PIVOTAL GAME: October 4 vs. Matawan

The Raiders are poised to make a run inside the Freedom Division and are buying into the underdog perception of their squad. The Matawan game falls in the mid-point of the season after divisional matchups against Toms River South, Jackson Liberty and Colts Neck. If they start off as well as projected, this game may play a determining factor in the hunt for a division title.

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