FRONTENAC — The Frontenac Raiders have been a regular in the postseason, advancing all the way to the state championship game just two years ago. Facing a challenging district slate in 2019, they look to make their mark yet again.

Mark Smith begins his eighth season at FHS, posting a 53-23 record to date. The Raiders are coming off a 6-4 campaign a year ago in which they finished third in Class 3A-District 1 behind Galena and Parsons to earn a postseason berth. They knocked off Burlington in the opening round of the 3A playoffs before falling to CNC rival Galena in the regional round. It was the fourth time in the last five years Frontenac was eliminated in the regional round.

“I really thought that we improved as a team throughout the season,” Smith said. “We had a lot of first-year starters and players, and they continued to work hard and get better every week. We lost to a great Galena team in the playoffs, but we made great strides from the first week to the playoffs. Hopefully, we can carry over some of the confidence and experience from last year and use it to our advantage in the big games this year.”

Frontenac returns several key players from last year’s squad that should once again make an impact this season. That includes a First Team All-CNC and Honorable Mention All-Class 3A linebacker in senior Drew Bollinger, as well as Honorable Mention All-CNC/Class 3A senior quarterback Jake Beckmann.

According to Smith, there are numerous returning starters, including seniors Alex Johnson (running back/safety), Ryan Raio (running back/strong safety), Kaleb Kroenke (center), Caleb Hemby (offensive guard), Kolby Bevins (offensive guard), Buddy Sexton (offensive guard), Cale Bridwell (tight end/kicker), Brant Chance (cornerback) and Trey Strahan (free safety); juniors Alex Storey (tight end/defensive end), Caden Burris (defensive tackle) and Ty Gates (defensive back/punter); and sophomores Cruz Blair (offensive tackle), Collin McCartney (defensive end) and Lane Franklin (defensive tackle).

Some other returning players that could step in to key roles are seniors Jake Menghini (wide receiver/defensive back), Kyle Kubler (wide receiver/defensive back), Austin Souder (wide receiver/defensive back) and Dakota Lapping (offensive/defensive line); as well as juniors Storm Niegsch (running back/safety), Griffin Souder (offensive/defensive line), Dylan Ensch (offensive line/defensive end) and Gustavo Herrera (offensive/defensive line).

“We will need our entire senior class to come together to be great leaders for our program this year,” Smith said. “We have a great group that works very well together and will push everyone on the team to work hard to do the right thing. I think we can be very good up front on both sides of the ball, and I think that we have several players with game-breaking speed and athleticism to make a lot of big plays on both sides of the ball. We will have a lot of depth this year, which will lead to a lot of competition and will make everyone and the team better because of it.”

Frontenac will open its season across the state line into Missouri at Richmond on Sept. 6 before making the short trek to Pittsburg to take on Colgan Sept. 13. The home opener is set for Sept. 20 against Commerce, Okla.

3A-District 1 action gets started on Sept. 27 at defending champion Galena. Three of the final four games will then be at home, including matchups with Parsons on Oct. 4, Baxter Springs Oct. 18 and Columbus to close the regular season Oct. 25. The lone road trip during that span will be at Caney Valley Oct. 11.

“We always have very high goals and expectations each season,” Smith said. “We have a very good schedule and a tough district schedule. We want to be playing our best in late October, and we want to make a push for a big playoff run in late November.”