Maine Maritime Academy advertises an incredible, nearly 100 percent job placement rate with its graduates.
The education provided at the Castine institution helped open the door for Jim Bower, a power engineering technology major at MMA, to land a position last spring at a firm in southern Maine.
The fifth-year senior from South Paris has since put his career on hold and has returned to campus to wrap up his classes and help bolster MMA’s reputation as one of the top Division III football programs in New England.
Bower, an American Football Coaches Association Division III All-American, is among eight returning starters on the prolific triple-option offense that helped coach Chris McKenney’s Mariners reach unprecedented heights in 2009, giving MMA plenty of reason for optimism this fall.
“He’s been one of the better football players here in a long time,” McKenney said. “He’s a hard worker and he loves to play the game, so we’re glad to have him back. The last two seasons he’s really done some amazing things.”
The defending New England Football Conference champions open their season Saturday with a 1 p.m. nonconference game at Anna Maria College in Paxton, Mass. The Mariners, who went 9-2 a year ago, aren’t looking back.
“It’s a new season,” McKenney said. “It’s time to make their mark on this season and not worry about what happened last year.”
MMA should strike fear into the hearts of opponents with its offense, which returns eight starters. The line features All-Bogan Division picks in senior center Dan Weamer, senior guard Mike Secord of Windham, senior tackle Mike Durrell of Livermore Falls and junior guard Andrew McCann of Rumford, who helped the Mariners lead Division III in rushing last season with 407 yards per game.
Junior Michael Gendron and sophomore Tom Houle, a converted defensive end, are vying to fill the vacated tackle spot on a group will open holes for Bower, the nation’s top rusher with 160.5 yards per contest. He netted 1,605 yards and scored 22 touchdowns.
Other veterans include senior halfback Todd Murphy and junior halfback Nick Bourassa of Jay (10.8 yards per carry, 9 TDs). Stepping into the fold at quarterback is junior Matt Rende of Augusta.
“He’s had a good preseason. He’ll get in the huddle and he’ll be a leader,” McKenney said of Rende. “We’re hoping to pick up where we left off last year, offensively.”
Junior Nate Duford is joined at wide receiver by sophomores Jacob Dimick of Cumberland and Alex Grant.
On defense, MMA is building around the talents of seven players who were mainstays on last year’s team. Two-time, all-division, senior linebacker Wade Mondoux of North Berwick, who led the NEFC in 2009 with 18.5 tackles for a loss, is the catalyst.
Sophomore Joel Chadbourne of Westbrook, an all-division ’backer in 2008, steps in for Mondoux after not attending school last fall. He’ll be flanked by junior linebackers Chris Brawn of Winslow and Mike Brennan of Manchester, along with sophomore Brock Lawrence of Benton.
Senior safety Frankie Sawyer of Lisbon and junior cornerback Dennis Michalos anchor the secondary. Converted receiver Josh Elwell, a senior from Owls Head, and sophomore Wade Severance of Hollis center round out the starters.
Up front, seniors Mark Stambach of Lisbon Falls and Andrew St. Michel of Old Orchard Beach and sophomore Matt Hebert of South Portland will set the tone.
“Up front, I think we’ve got some pretty talented kids,” McKenney said.
Brennan converted 32 of 44 PAT kicks a year ago and will be challenged by freshman Trace LaCour. Bourassa also is a dangerous kick returner.
Bower, Weamer, Secord, Murphy and Mondoux will serve as MMA’s co-captains.