It was a memorable 2010 for the Stearns High School football team.
Coach Chris Preble directed the Minutemen to the LTC title and an undefeated record before losing to Yarmouth in the Class C state championship game.
That team was led by 16 seniors.
This season, a new and less-experienced group will determine how Stearns of Millinocket overcomes numerous personnel losses.
“You look at what you’ve got and you build your offense and defense around what you have,” said Preble, the 2010 LTC Coach of the Year. “You draw from it, the experiences and whatnot, but you pretty much put last year behind you.”
Stearns is the smallest school in Maine to field a varsity football team. Its enrollment was fewer than 200 last year.
That hasn’t dampened enthusiasm for the game in the “Magic City.”
“They still love football,” said Preble, who has 28 players — one fewer than last year — out for the squad.
The roster includes nine seniors, nine juniors, two sophomores and eight freshmen.
“There’s some kids there with some experience, but after those guys go through, it’s a work in progress,” Preble said.
Senior Josh Studer is among the most experienced players for the Minutemen. He is one of three players who started at linebacker last season and lines up at guard on the offensive side.
Senior Ryan Hibbs will become the featured tailback after logging some work last year and has moved to defensive back from his former outside ‘backer spot. Junior Jordan Morrow, another returning starter at linebacker, will contribute in the offensive backfield after serving as the backup quarterback in 2010.
“We try to put our best athletes at linebacker and build around that,” Preble said. “This year, with low numbers, you’ve kind of got to get your best 11 on the field and figure it out from there.”
Junior Ron Buffington, who was part of the offensive line rotation, is a two-way tackle. Versatile senior Jude Tapley will play either halfback or tight end on offense and was a starting defensive end a year ago.
Junior Mark Lyons takes over at quarterback and may also see time at defensive back.
With vastly different personnel, Preble said he has changed Stearns’ offensive approach. The Minutemen will be playing more old-fashioned, I-based football instead of the spread scheme that was so successful last season.
“At a small school a coach has to adapt to the kids instead of the kids adapting to the system,” Preble said. “We’ve got a new breed of kids coming through and we’re going to try to build around their strengths.”
Preble explained that retooling the team and working with lots of first-time varsity contributors is challenging and rewarding.
“Of that group of 18 upperclassmen, there’s probably 13 or 14 that were involved last year on special teams or spelled a guy here or there,” Preble said. “Other guys are still trying to figure it out, but that’s what it’s all about.”
Like many small-school programs, depth is going to be a concern for the Minutemen, but with eight teams qualifying for the playoffs, Preble hopes Stearns can show steady improvement and get back to the postseason.
Stearns opens in Thorndike against Mount View on Saturday at 1 p.m.
2010 results: 11-1, lost in Class C state final
Head coach: Chris Preble, 11th year
Key players: Ryan Hibbs, RB-DB, Sr.; Jordan Morrow, RB-LB, Jr.; Josh Studer, OG-LB, Sr.; Mark Lyons, QB-DB, Jr.; Jude Tapley, HB/TE-DE, Sr.; Ron Buffington, OT-DT, Jr.
Outlook: It appears to be a rebuilding year for the Minutemen, who must try to get a lot of their new starters game experience in order to achieve improvement. Stearns has the benefit of riding last year’s success and should have enough residual work ethic and knowledge of the system to be competitive in the always-tough LTC ranks.