Dan O’Connell doesn’t have the luxury of a feeder system for his football program.
John Bapst Memorial High School draws from a variety of Greater Bangor-area middle schools, so he doesn’t know what he has to work with until his players arrive at 100 Broadway in Bangor. Despite that challenge, O’Connell has consitently developed his Crusaders into winners.
This season, John Bapst seeks a fifth straight berth in the Eastern Maine Class C title game.
“I think the biggest thing is that we can’t take anything for granted,” said O’Connell, whose pipeline of largely inexperienced players forces John Bapst to spend lots of time on fundamentals.
Even the veterans are forced to work on the basic concepts ever year.
“We have to start from scratch every year and as much as that sounds like an uneasy situation, in a lot of ways it helps us,” O’Connell said.
The Crusaders again have a strong nucleus around which to build. Their most recognizable name is Max Andrews. The senior garnered All-LTC first-team recognition on both sides of the ball last season at tight end and defensive end.
“He’s physically become a man and he’s as good as anyone in our league,” said O’Connell, who wants to better utilize Andrews. “We’re going to put him in the backfield sometimes, find ways to get him the ball.”
At tight end, he lines up alongside two returning starters in junior tackle Chris Coleman and junior guard Kurt Massey and experienced senior Brandon Blustajn.
Senior quarterback Deven Romain, who was an understudy in 2010 because of a shoulder injury, has taken the reins of John Bapst’s multipronged spread offense.
His assortment of weapons includes senior running backs Andrew Catlin and Sean O’Donnell and junior RB Jake Moore, along with senior All-LTC receiver Mark Dieuveuil, junior wideout Josh Baker and Andrews.
“The thing that I think is going to be our strength is that we have bunch of junior and senior skill kids in our spread offense,” O’Connell said. “We’re going to try to spread the ball around and make you guard everybody.”
Dieuveuil also is an all-league kicker who consistently kicks off into the end zone and has 40-yard field-goal range.
“It’s a weapon that not a lot of teams have the luxury of having,” O’Connell said.
One difference this season, and a point of concern early on, is John Bapst is relying on many of its veterans to play both ways.
“We’re not as deep as we have been,” O’Connell said. “We have to be really careful about finding some kids we can substitute.”
Andrews and Massey anchor the defensive front, which could include Coleman and Blustajn. Dieuveuil, Moore, O’Donnell and Jordan make up the linebacker corps, with Catlin and Baker manning the corners and Spencer at safety.
“We’re not as big as we have been, but we’re a lot faster,” O’Connell said of his 3-5-3 alignment.
Junior Bard DeCessere also plays linebacker, while seniors Jeff Glifort and Chad Hensley are solid backups.
O’Connell said John Bapst’s recent success and the commitment of the players has created an atmosphere that has helped the program attract good athletes, with no football experience, from other sports.
“We’ve built a culture that kids want to be a part of,” he said. “It’s a place where football is celebrated and they want to be a part of it.”s
John Bapst opens its season against Mattanawcook Academy of Lincoln on Friday at 7 p.m. at Cameron Stadium in Bangor.
JOHN BAPST CRUSADERS
2010 Results: 8-3, lost in Eastern Maine final
Head coach: Dan O’Connell, 9th
Key players: Max Andrews, TE-DE, Sr.; Chris Coleman, OT-NG, Sr.; Brandon Blustajn, OT-DT, Sr.; Mark Dieuveuil, WR-LB-PK, Sr.; Deven Romain, QB-DE, Sr.; Andrew Catlin, RB-CB, Jr.; Kurt Massey, OL-DE, Jr.; Jake Moore, RB-LB, Jr.; Sean O’Donnell, RB-LB, Sr.; Josh Baker, WR-CB, Jr.; Nick Jordan, OG-LB, So., Austin Spencer, QB-FS, So.; Brad DeCessere, RB-LB, Jr.
Outlook: The Crusaders, with their propensity for excellence, may have enough talent to challenge for the LTC title. Andrews is a potential Division I prospect and there are plenty of offensive options to complement him. Bapst must replace two starters in the offensive line, but O’Connell is a former lineman who knows how to get results. If healthy, this team could be a force.