MILLINOCkET, Maine — When your entire roster includes only seven upperclassmen, it can often mean a long season is in store.
The dynamic is really nothing new at Stearns High School of Millinocket, where coach Chris Preble is accustomed to working with less.
Even so, the Minutemen hope they have enough quality to remain competitive in the LTC ranks this season.
Stearns gave itself a confidence boost right off the bat, earning a 52-20 victory over Mount View of Thorndike last Friday night.
Preble is counting on a class of seven seniors and only one junior to lead the way.
“That’s just a reality of a school with 185 kids in it,” Preble said. “We’re happy we have the number of kids that we have. It’s kind of been the way we’ve been the last few years.”
Less than two years removed from playing for the Class C state championship, the Minutemen will be counting on their upperclassmen to play well and play on both offense and defense.
Senior Jordan Morrow becomes the featured running back after netting 344 yards a year ago. He’ll take handoffs from senior quarterback Mark Lyons, who threw for only 309 yards in 2011.
“The backfield is really where our experience is. We have a little bit of depth there,” said Preble, who also pointed to junior Riley Whitney, the team’s leading receiver a year ago, and Tyson Girsa as versatile running backs who can catch the football.
Preble pointed to Lyons’ comfort level and the experience of him and Morrow as key ingredients to the operation.
“They pretty much know the offense in and out, they’re smart kids, but we’re trying to keep it simple right now for some of our inexperienced guys,” Preble said.
Junior Brad Moscone, who struggled with injuries last season, returns to head the offensive line group at his guard position. The Minutemen have some experience otherwise up front, but need guys to step up and perform in full-time, starting roles. Sophomore Justin Santerre is the other guard.
Tom Fiske, a versatile senior, has played several positions and is expected to see some duty at tight end.
“We’ll mix it up with our formations,’ Preble said. “Up front it doesn’t change a lot. we’ll try to use our athletes in situations and matchups.”
On defense, Stearns is fortunate to have a corps of linebackers who know their way around. The group is spearheaded by Morrow, a three-year starter who racked up 76 tackles last season.
He lines up with Girsa (68 tackles) and Whitney (61 tackles) to make the Minutemen strong up the middle.
Moscone makes the switch from inside linebacker to defensive tackle in a line contingent that also includes sophomore Justin Santerre at end. The secondary also has some starting experience.
Preble hopes Stearns can get enough quality contributions to enable the Minutemen to improve on last year’s record.
“We have maybe a little more experience and a little more confidence than we had last year,” he said.
2011 results: 4-5, lost to Orono in LTC quarterfinals
Head coach: Chris Preble, 12th year
Key players: Jordan Morrow, TB-LB, Sr.; Riley Whitney, RB-LB, Sr.; Tyson Girsa, RB-LB, Sr.; Brad Moscone, OG-DT, Jr.; Mark Lyons, QB-DB, Jr; Tom Fiske, TE, Sr.; Justin Santerre, OG-DE, Jr.
Outlook: The Minutemen are building around a small nucleus of juniors and seniors who must perform well as the younger players develop. Preble said Stearns’ goal is to stay healthy and seek consistent improvement in the hope of earning another postseason berth.