LINCOLN, Maine — Last season, Mattanawcook Academy was able to develop a relatively young team well enough to sneak into the LTC playoffs.
It will be a similar project this year for coach Dave Hainer, who again has several holes to fill around his proven performers as his team chases some of the perennial powers.
The Lynx from Lincoln feature two of the best offensive players in the conference in Trysten Pelkey and Ryan O’Hara.
Pelkey, a junior quarterback, ranked second in the league in 2011 while throwing for 932 yards and nine touchdowns on 76-for-155 accuracy. The second-team all-star also was the LTC’s No. 5 rusher with 830 yards and six scores.
“I think Trysten’s probably the best returning quarterback in the LTC,” Hainer said. “Out of the returning quarterbacks, I think he’s the biggest threat.”
The Lynx also welcome back senior tight end O’Hara, a first-team choice who led the LTC with 41 receptions for 498 yards and scored four TDs. With little experience at the wide receiver spots, Hainer has switched to a “pistol” setup.
“The quarterback is three yards deep [behind the line] instead of five, so he’s a little quicker to the line of scrimmage,” said Hainer, who hopes the move also will help open up O’Hara.
“We’ve got a lot more tight end formations with it,” he added. “He’s going to be Trysten’s first read most of the time.”
Their ability to help Mattanawcook Academy put points on the board will depend on the rapid development of the offensive line and the wide receivers.
MA boasts a beefy line that is anchored by senior center Mitchell Sibley, junior tackle Elijah Susen and senior tackle Tony Belenger, a transfer. With limited depth, Hainer needs the group to stay healthy and continue to improve its collective fitness.
Senior H-back Ben Ferland lends a physical presence and sophomore tailback Holden Kimball provides a speed element.
The Lynx defense should be stout up front, with O’Hara and Belenger holding down the end spots and Susen playing tackle. Solidifying the middle are junior linebacker A.J. MacEachern along with Ferland and Sibley.
Pelkey, the top returning tackler with 50, is the strong safety and will step into the box against run-oriented teams.
Where MA is less seasoned is in the secondary. Junior Zach Perry will play both corner and free safety, while Kimball has moved from linebacker to cornerback to give the team a more fleet pass coverage man.
“Our pass rush might be our best pass defense,” Hainer said. “We’re teaching our defensive backs to be smart and not give up big plays.”
The Lynx must learn to contend with opponents’ speed to the outside, especially against the likes of John Bapst, Orono and Foxcroft Academy.
Mattanawcook has plenty of room for growth with 27 underclassmen among 41 players in grades 9-12.
“We still have a lot of juniors and sophomores that are playing, even some freshmen,” Hainer said. “We’ve got to concentrate on improving every day.”
John Bapst of Bangor beat Mattanawcook 20-6 in a mutual opener Friday night.
MATTANAWCOOK ACADEMY LYNX
2011 results: 3-6, lost to Bucksport in LTC quarterfinals
Head coach: Dave Hainer, 5th year
Key players: Trysten Pelkey, QB-SS, Jr.; Ryan O’Hara, TE-DE, Sr.; Ben Ferland, TB-LB, Sr.; Holden Kimball, TB-CB, Soph.; Mitchell Sibley, OC-LB, Sr.; Elijah Susen, OT-DT, Jr.; Tony Belenger, OT-DE, Sr.; A.J. MacEachern, MLB, Jr.; Zach Perry, FS, Jr.
Outlook: The Lynx should be competitive, but may lack the overall experience to keep up with the league frontrunners. MA has some dynamic offensive weapons, but may be challenged to deal with teams that feature considerable speed. MA should again be in the hunt for a playoff spot.