It is tough enough on New England Football Conference opponents that Maine Maritime Academy runs an offense most teams don’t have to deal with very often.
What makes it an even greater challenge is that the Mariners run the triple option extremely well.
Coach Chris McKenney’s squad again hopes to dictate the tone of its games with its potent ground attack again in 2009 as MMA opens the season with a nonconference game at Becker College.
There is plenty of reason for optimism in Castine as the Mariners return 16 starters, including nine on offense, from a team that won the NEFC Bogan Division crown and played in the conference championship game.
“The team is working hard,” said McKenney, the 2008 Bogan Division Coach of the Year. “They’re excited about this year after the year we had last year.”
MMA was picked to finish second in the Bogan Division in the preseason coaches’ poll.
An offensive line manned by junior all-division center Dan Weamer, seniors Travis Berube of Eliot, Mike Vangelist of Sanford, Erik Shortell and tight end Travis Shaw of Bradley, along with sophomores Andrew McCann of Rumford and Zach Rowe, has plenty of experience.
Last season, the group paved the way for MMA to rank second in Division III rushing with 368.2 yards per contest. The man for opponents to stop is senior fullback Jim Bower of South Paris, an All-New England choice who ran for 1,698 yards (6.3 yards per carry) and 25 touchdowns.
The team captain ranked sixth in the nation (Division III) with 154.6 yards per game.
At the helm and making the split-second decision on who gets the ball is senior quarterback and captain Tyler Angell of Leeds, who ran for eight TDs and passed for eight more last fall to help MMA lead the league with 38.1 points per game.
MMA also features sophomore halfback Nick Bourassa of Jay and junior HB Todd Murphy, who combined for another 987 yards and eight scores in 2008.
On defense, the Mariners welcome back a group of seven starters to provide a veteran nucleus.
The unquestioned lynchpin of the unit is junior linebacker Wade Mondoux of Berwick, an all-division pick last season after racking up a team-leading 115 tackles, including 10.5 for a loss, with five interceptions and two fumble recoveries.
He is joined in the middle by senior captain Travis Fergola of Mexico (93 tackles), sophomore all-division linebacker Joel Chadbourne of Westbrook (84 tackles) and sophomore Chris Brawn of Lewiston (34 tackles).
The secondary is patrolled by senior all-division safety Conor Callahan (58 tackles), senior cornerback and captain Mike Riley (59 tackles) and Frankie Sawyer of Lisbon (21 tackles).
Up front, Andrew St. Michael of Old Orchard Beach (27 tackles) is among the top returnees along with Mark Stambach of Lisbon Falls.
On special teams, MMA looks to senior punter Alex Coulombe of Kennebunk and sophomore kicker Michael Brennan of Manchester, along with kick returner Bourassa, who earned all-division recognition while averaging 26.5 yards per return en route to an NEFC-record 689 yards a year ago.
Last season, the Mariners (7-4) got off to an 0-2 start, but won seven of their last nine contests to reach the title game and registered their fourth straight winning season. The Mariners relish the opportunity to try to improve on last season.
“We don’t think of it as pressure, we kind of enjoy it,” Bower said. “We had great success last year and we have a lot of guys returning. We definitely want to take it to the next level.”
MMA’s home opener comes Sept. 19 against Western New England.
“It’s a tough schedule, a tough conference,” McKenney said. “It’s gotten better every year I’ve been in it. You’ve got to be ready to play each week.”