Maine Maritime Academy of Castine goes into the 2011 football season having lost players who rushed for more than 2,600 yards last season.
The Mariners also return players who netted 2,521 yards on the ground and scored 32 touchdowns last fall.
With his team coming off the most prolific rushing season for any team in Division III history, coach Chris McKenney is confident his Mariners can continue to give New England Football Conference opponents fits with their triple-option offense.
The Mariners are gunning for their fourth consecutive NEFC Bogan Division title and another spot in the league title game.
Senior quarterback and co-captain Matt Rende of Augusta (18 touchdowns) will direct the offense, one that set a Division III record last season with 471.6 rushing yards per game, 5,188 rushing yards and 5.5 rushing TDs per game.
MMA also ranked third nationally with 503.4 total yards per game.
“Offensively, we did lose a big one in (fullback) Jim Bower, but we’ve got some pretty good players there that also got a lot of yardage.”
MMA will rely on Rende, the No. 16 rusher in Division III at 121.2 ypg in 2010, to decide whether to keep the ball or hand off to one of the Mariners’ versatile running backs. Senior halfback Nic Bourassa of Jay, another co-captain, netted 888 yards with 10 TDs.
“They have quite a bit of game experience and knowledge of what’s going on to help us get through the first game and get some of these newcomers in the swing of things,” McKenney said.
Sophomore halfback Bill Wetherbee of Veazie steps in full time at the other halfback. MMA is unproven at fullback, where Bower dominated in recent years.
Sophomore Tom Marcisso of Scarborough and classmate Tyler Robitaille are competing to fill Bower’s big shoes.
The Mariners also must replace three All-Bogan Division standouts up front. The veterans are led by senior Andrew McCann of Rumford, the left guard, and senior left tackle Michael Gendron.
Junior Jon Thoms of Orrington has moved over from defense to play right guard, while freshman Greg Oulton of Falmouth will start at center.
MMA doesn’t throw much, but has experienced receivers in seniors Nate Duford and Michael Brennan.
McKenney is looking for improvement on defense, where the Mariners are building around a veteran nucleus of linebackers.
Junior linebacker Joel Chadbourne of Westbrook is the catalyst after racking up 116 tackles. Junior Brock Lawrence (57 tackles) and senior co-captain Chris Brawn of Winslow (48) also play in the middle.
Junior Matt Hebert of South Portland (29) anchors the front line at noseguard and also is an all-conference punter.
“There’s quite a bit of game experience there,” McKenney said. “There’s some playmakers, guys that can run and hit, and we’re looking for a lot out of them.”
Sophomore Matt Ball of Portland is the other linebacker, while junior Tyler Chamberlain of Eddington and sophomore John Regis of Old Orchard Beach are the ends.
In the secondary, junior Alex Hermes has moved to safety after making 43 tackles a year ago. Sophomore Chase Hutchinson of Dover-Foxcroft and junior Wade Severance of Hollis Center are the cornerbacks, with senior Ryan Williams of North Yarmouth at the other safety.
“I think there’s some playmakers back there,” McKenney said. “As those guys get more game experience, I expect them to improve.”
MMA has established a formula for success, one built around its productive running game.
“We need to take care of the football on offense and either grind it out and eat the clock or make big plays,” McKenney said. “We need to create some havoc, turnovers, on the defensive side of the ball.”
MMA opens the season Saturday with a noon nonconference home game against Anna Maria.