BANGOR, Maine — Replacing graduating players is always quite the task, but the process was a bit harder this offseason for coach Dan O’Connell and the John Bapst Memorial High School football team.
The Crusaders come into the 2012 season having graduated many key players from last season’s squad that made it to the LTC semifinals, but no loss was bigger than four-year All-Conference tight end and defensive end Max Andrews.
“In the Class C and Eastern Maine ranks, you just don’t get kids like that all the time,” said O’Connell, who also lost quarterback Deven Romain and All-LTC wide receiver Mark Dieuveuil.
The challenge of filling the void that Andrews left looked to be near impossible, but O’Connell was aided by an early revelation.
“We knew going into this year that we were not going to able to replace a player of Max’s talent,” said O’Connell. “We figured out that we would have to find a way, through a scheme or group of players, to replace what he provided.”
The new scheme has developed throughout the offseason, as the Crusaders have embraced the concept of sharing the ball within their spread offense to provide a variety of options.
“When our quarterback drops back, he won’t have that one guy to make a big play, but instead we will now have four or five weapons,” O’Connell said.
The Crusaders have also stressed improvement on the running game and making the offense more multi-dimensional. The revamped running attack includes returning senior backs Jake Moore and Andy Catlin, while senior Shawn Curran and junior Austin Spencer both bring mobility to the quarterback position.
The success of the running game will hinge on the play of a young offensive line that will need to provide plenty of open lanes and blocking for rushers. Leading the line will be senior offensive tackle Kurt Massey, who O’Connell believes will be a difference maker on the line.
“Kurt is the type of player a coach dreams about coaching,” said O’Connell. “He’s a very physical and emotional type of player, but most notably he has a motor that is always going.”
The Crusaders will rely on a similar team approach to replace losses on the defensive side, as the team will rely on contributions from a young defensive line and linebacking core filled with depth.
O’Connell said he has been preaching a fundamentally sound approach to his defense, looking for them to be quick and physical at all times.
“We have put an onus on getting to the ball carrier and knowing what to do once we get there,” he said. “Our emphasis has been on speed and attacking, and hopefully between the two it will put us in a good position.”
“Last year we had a junior and sophomore class that got a lot of reps and have really come into their own here.” he added.
Offensive starters Massey, Moore, junior Nick Jordan, senior Brad Decesere, and senior Mitchell Arsenault highlight the depth on the defensive front, while Catlin, Spencer, and senior Josh Baker will be key cogs in the secondary.
Arsenault was Andrew’s understudy for the last three years, and O’Connell believes the work he has put in along the way will translate onto the field this year.
“He’s worked very hard at perfecting his craft both inside and outside the line so he can be versatile.” said O’Connell. “He can spell anybody on the line in a very unselfish fashion that you can appreciate as a coach.”
The versatility of players and their willingness to step into a position have been key to the development of O’Connell’s successful teams of the past. He said this year is no different in terms of that depth.
“It has allowed us to bring kids along because they are competing at a higher level in practice.” “We only have about 35 guys, but that has given us a chance to move people around and put together some depth that has worked out well so far.”
John Bapst opened with a 20-0 victory over Mattanawcook Academy of Lincoln Friday night.
JOHN BAPST CRUSADERS
Last year’s finish: 7-3, lost in LTC semifinal to Orono
Coach/year: Dan O’Connell/10th
Key Players: Kurt Massey, OT-DE, Sr.; Jake Moore, RB-LB, Sr.; Andrew Catlin, RB-CB, Sr.; Mitchell Arsenault, DE-OL, Sr.; Josh Baker, WR-S, Sr.; Shawn Curran, QB-S, Sr.; Austin Spencer, QB-S, Jr.; Brad Decesere, RB-DE, Sr.; Nick Jordan, NG-OL, Jr.
Outlook: The Crusaders will look to work their way back to the LTC championship game with more of a run-mentality offense and a balanced team effort on defense. With speed on both sides of the ball from the likes of Catlin, Curran, and Spencer, beating opponents to the spot will be crucial to winning games. If Spencer or Curran emerge as a legit combo threat under center, there is little doubt that the offense will flourish under O’Connell’s schemes and with so many weapons available. The question remains to be whether the defense can duplicate Andrews’ playmaking abilities from a year ago.