BURDEN — During his first five seasons as head coach, Anthony Blair has directed the Central of Burden Raider football program to the postseason three times. That includes a trip to the regional round of the Eight Man-Division I playoffs a year ago.

Despite the loss of some key players from last year’s 6-4 campaign, the Raiders hope to be in position once again for a postseason run as the 2019 season kicks off this week.

“We have had kids step up in big ways,” said Blair, who begins his sixth season on the Raider sideline on Sept. 6 at South Central Border League foe Oxford. “We lost seven on both sides of the ball (to graduation). So we have a lot of kids that are playing new positions that they have never played.”

The Raiders are coming off a season in which they won five of their final seven games, finishing as the District 1 runner-up behind Sedan. Central advanced to the postseason and knocked off Caldwell in the opening round of the playoffs. Its season came to an end after falling to South Central in the regional round.

Unfortunately, CHS lost several key players from that squad to graduation. That included the team’s Most Valuable Player in Clayton Cook — an All-SCBL First Team performer on both sides of the ball where he accounted for more than 1,400 yards of offense while also leading the team in tackles (96). He is currently playing football at Dordt University. Other players that have since graduated are All-SCBL performers Payton Edwards, Tanner Groene and Jacob Haws.

The Raiders will likely have issues with experience and depth this season — with only 15 available players and four starters back (three offense and one defense). Senior Lane Toon returns on both sides of the ball at tight end and cornerback. He is joined by senior Dylan Helbing at offensive guard and junior Alex Hood at center.

“The key to our success this year will be to stay healthy due to lack of depth,” Blair said. “Another key to our success will be our seniors stepping up and leading the younger players. We have a lot of younger inexperienced players that will need to step up in big roles. Our expectation for this season is to be competitive in all games, stay healthy and reach the playoffs for the third year in a row.”

Central opens the season at Oxford on Friday before making its first home appearance of the season one week later on Sept. 13 against Argonia/Attica. The pre-district slate concludes on Sept. 20 with a trip to Udall.

As for the Eight Man I-District 1 schedule, it includes home games against West Elk (Sept. 27), Oswego (Oct. 11) and Cedar Vale/Dexter (Oct. 25), as well as games at Flinthills (Oct. 4) and Sedan (Oct. 18).

Sedan is the defending District 1 champion, with Central finishing as the runner-up a year ago. The four teams in that six-team district will advance to the Eight Man-Division I playoffs.