HAMPDEN, Maine — With a 1,000-yard rusher and two quality quarterbacks along with a long list of other returning starters, optimism is prevalent surrounding the football team at the new state-of-the-art Hampden Academy.
And a competitive season-opening 27-17 loss to defending three-time Pine Tree Conference Class B champion Leavitt of Turner didn’t dampen the Broncos’ spirits.
It was Leavitt’s 34th straight regular season win.
Eighth-year coach Harry McCluskey thought his team played well.
“But we made a few mistakes here and there and didn’t score as many points as we should have,” said McCluskey, who has guided the Broncos to PTC semifinal appearances the last two years while compiling a 14-6 record.
“Even though we lost, we played tough,” said senior running back-defensive back Logan Steward, who ran for more than 1,000 yards in 2011. “We kept our heads high and kept pushing. If we see them again in the playoffs, we’ll play them hard.”
McCluskey said they lost three starters off last year’s 6-4 team and acknowledged that “we should be pretty good.”
“We’ve got a lot of big goals,” said Steward. “We strive to go deep into the playoffs. We want to reach that gold ball [state championship].
“We’ve got a lot of guys returning. They know the system very, very well and we have a tight-knit group of guys,” added Steward. “We’ve been playing together since we were peewees.”
“We’re a hard-working group and we don’t quit,” added wide receiver-defensive back Nick Rodgerson.
“There’s a lot of seniors so we know what to do all the time,” said senior wingback-free safety Matt Haws, who will also see some action at fullback.
Haws, Steward and Rodgerson are the tri-captains.
Steward said the loss of 1,000-yard rusher Nick Stevens to graduation won’t put added pressure on him.
“We have a lot of weapons this year. [Rodgerson] and [Haws] can both carry the ball very, very well. We’re going to distribute the ball all over the place and keep [the opponents] guessing,” said Steward.
The Broncos have a unique situation at quarterback, where senior Brian Fickett, who threw for close to 700 yards a year ago, and junior Matt Martin will both take snaps.
“It’s a real good battle. No one has stepped up yet and won the job,” said McCluskey.
McCluskey and his players have confidence in both of them.
“Whoever is playing well is going to play and we’re fine with either one of them,” said Steward. “Both of them know the offense very, very well.”
Rodgerson said the competition between the two is good for everyone.
“It makes them want to play better to earn the spot,” said Rodgerson.
Promising sophomore Derek Jeselowski is the third-string quarterback.
Ben Cambridge, a senior, will be the fullback with Haws at wingback.
There is no shortage of quality or experience on the offensive line with Logan Lafayette at center, Jackson Cust and Joey Doyon at guard; Cameron Prescott, Jack Barteaux and Josh DeLima sharing the tackle spots and Simon Burditt at tight end.
All of them are seniors except Barteaux, who is a junior.
Tyler Norris, a senior, also will see duty as a tight end and wingback. And he will do the punting.
Steward handles the placekicking.
The defensive unit features a lot of the same names.
Lafayette is the nose guard and the other down linemen will be Prescott, Barteaux, DeLima and senior Sage Rapp.
Burditt, Doyon and senior Nick Jeselowski are the starting linebackers and junior Jeremy Kelsey also will see service there. Junior John Chen will take snaps at linebacker and on the defensive line. Cambridge and Martin are outside linebackers-rush safeties.
The secondary will be composed of Haws, Steward, Rodgerson, senior Roy Donnelly and junior Reed Pozzy.
“We should be very good on defense,” said Steward.
Nick Jeselowski, who also will see offensive duty at fullback, is currently sidelined by an appendectomy but could return within a month.
Last year’s record: 6-4, lost in PTC Class B semifinals to Leavitt
Head coach: Harry McCluskey, 8th year
Key players: FB-DB Ben Cambridge, Sr., WR-DB Nick Rodgerson, Sr., QB-DB Brian Fickett, Sr., QB-DB Matt Martin, Jr., RB-DB Logan Steward, Sr., C-MG Logan Lafayette, Sr., OG-LB Joey Doyon, Sr., TE-LB Simon Burditt, OT-DT, Sr. Josh DeLima, OT-DT, Sr., OT-DT Cameron Prescott, Sr.
Outlook: The Broncos are a legitimate title contender thanks to a corps of talented and experienced seniors in all positions. Fickett and Martin give them a solid one-two punch at quarterback so McCluskey can either use both of them or go with the hot hand. Steward ran over 1,000 yards a year ago and is one of the top backs in the conference. The defense should also be formidable. Despite losing to three-time PTC Class B champ Leavitt of Turner in their opener, 27-17, they gained confidence from their performance and could see Leavitt again in the postseason.