It's been a while, but the Raiders are finally back.

With the recent region realignments, Whitehorse High School has elected to rejoin football in Utah for the 2009 season after a two-year hiatus. The Raiders chose to play an independent schedule the past two seasons after being thumped for two seasons prior in a region partially comprised of larger 2A schools. Now that those schools have been promoted back to 2A competition, 1A football is made up entirely of smaller schools again.

"This will be better," said head coach Fernando Fonseca. "We had eight games scheduled last year, but we only got to play six. This year, we'll actually have some games to play."

Though Fonseca and his squad are excited to play for region and Utah state titles again, the coach acknowledges that it could be a tough year for the team. "This is going to be a rebuilding season. We lost nine seniors last year." And for a school as small as Whitehorse, nine players is a third of the team.

Fonseca does, however, still have a number of last year's standouts returning to play this year. Junior Shawn Dickson, who was nominated to the Navajo Nation First Team last season, is back to lead Whitehorse on defense as well as to turn heads as a receiver, and senior Elijah Keams, who is one of the biggest players on the Raider roster, will anchor the defensive line.

Junior Brian Yazzie is expected to make big plays for the Raiders at receiver, as well. "He made same good — no, he made some exceptional catches," Fonseca said. "We'd throw it up and he'd come down with it. It might have been luck."

Despite welcoming a large number of new players to the system as well as taking on all new competition this season, Fonseca is confident this will be a good year of football for the Raiders. One in which the team will achieve a lot and improve greatly. "We'll do OK," he said. "We're looking forward to it."

Whitehorse Raiders at a glance

Coach: Fernando Fonseca is in his 2nd year at Whitehorse with a 3-3 record.

Key players: Returners Shawn Dickson and Brian Yazzie will both be hauling in catches on the offensive side of the ball. Elijah Keams will be the soul of the defense.

Strengths: A handful of experienced players return for the Raiders, who were successful in out-of-state competition the last few years. Now that they will be playing schools their own size, the Raiders are ready to make some noise.

Weaknesses: They lost nine players to graduation last season, out of just 27 total kids, and are playing all new competition this year after re-entering Utah football.

Last year: 3-3 playing an independent schedule

Predicted 1A South finish: Third

Postseason possibilities: With just four teams in the 1A South region, a postseason appearance is very probable. After making it that far, the sky is the limit.

2009 schedule:

Aug. 28 — SHONTO PREP, ARIZ., 7 p.m.

Sept. 4 — NAVAJO PREP, N.M., 7 p.m.

Sept. 11 — NAVAJO PINE, N.M., 7 p.m.

Sept. 18 — at Duchesne, 7 p.m.

Sept. 25 — at Milford, 7 p.m.

Oct. 2 — at Layton Christian, 7 p.m.

Oct. 9 — MONTICELLO, 7 p.m.

Oct. 16 — RICH, 7 p.m.

Oct. 23— at Monument Valley, 7 p.m.