BANGOR, Maine — Those involved with the Bangor High School football program were less concerned with how the Rams would be affected by the addition of a fourth class around the state this fall than many of the other 75 high school teams in Maine.
There was little mystery about where Bangor — currently the third-largest football-playing school in the state by enrollment — would land and how their schedule might take shape.
So when the Rams learned they would be joined in Eastern Maine Class A by three schools they had been playing in recent years — Lewiston, Edward Little of Auburn and Oxford Hills of South Paris — along with Windham and three Portland-based schools in Cheverus, Deering and Portland High, there was little reaction.
Well, perhaps some nostalgia, given that the Rams had played nearly all of those schools, including the Portland entries, until the Maine Principals’ Association last dropped its fourth football class after the 1986 season.
“I think we’re playing the schools we should be playing,” said Bangor head coach Mark Hackett, “and seeing them more gives you a better chance if you get to play them again.”
Bangor, which went 5-4 but missed the playoffs last year, will field its youngest team of recent vintage this season.
“It’s just experience,” said Hackett, 95-30 in his first 12 years as Bangor’s head coach, a run highlighted by the 2001 Class A state championship and four Eastern A titles. “A lot of the guys haven’t played a whole lot, and you’ve got to play to improve.”
Bangor’s growth will begin with a line led by senior captain and center Brendan Moore, a third-year starter on the offensive front. Classmate Adam Allen, who missed last season due to an injury, and sophomore Cameron Cota will play guard, while junior Matt Duff and sophomores Josh Clement and Zack Leclair will see time at tackle.
Senior Nick Ashey is a returning starter at tight end, while seniors Ozzie Degnan and James Deane are the wide receivers.
Seniors Logan Lanham and Alex Welch will play in the backfield as will juniors Jake Lavoie and Langston Hamer-Nagle and sophomores Ben Crichton and Dane Johnson, all surrounding senior quarterback and captain Xavier Lewis.
Lewis is back with the Rams after spending his junior year helping Lawrence of Fairfield win the 2012 Eastern A title.
“We go as [Xavier] goes,” said Hackett. “He’s going to have as many opportunities as we can get him to make plays.”
Hamer-Nagle will play nose guard while Moore will play one defensive tackle slot and Hackett will use a combination of players in other interior spot.
Ashey and junior Jordan Ayer are the defensive ends, with Allen and junior Evan McAuliffe at inside linebacker in Bangor’s 5-2 set.
Welch and Lanham will play cornerback with Deane and junior Jake Fournier candidates at strong safety and Lewis at free safety.
“It’s as good a secondary as we’ve had, I think, if you measure the ability to play the pass and the contact level,” said Hackett. “They clean things up pretty well.”
Bangor has qualified for postseason play in 10 of Hackett’s 12 years as head coach, and six of the eight teams in Eastern A will earn playoff berths this year.
Cheverus and Portland are considered the preseason favorites in the division, but Hackett is hopeful his young players will adapt quickly to the varsity experience.
“I’d say we’re somewhere in the middle of the pack,” he said. “I like these guys. I like the way they compete and I like the work ethic I see. I’m excited about this team.”
Cheverus (10-1 last year) is 34-1 in its last 35 games, having its 34-game winning streak ended in a 20-13 loss to Thornton Academy of Saco in last year’s Western A final.
The Stags are led by veteran coach John Wolfgram, whose teams at Cheverus, Madison, Gardiner and South Portland have combined to win 10 state championships.
Among the graduated players Cheverus will have to replace is last season’s Fitzpatrick Trophy winner, running back-defensive end Donald Goodrich.
Portland (6-4) lost to Cheverus on last year’s Western A semifinals, but returns several key skill-position players led by senior running back Justin Zukowski.
Lewiston (2-7) fielded a young squad last fall and should benefit from that year of experience.
Quintarian Brown is perhaps the most explosive member of a talented junior class, having returned seven kicks for touchdowns last year while also emerging as a rushing threat in the Blue Devils’ offensive backfield behind quarterbacks Eddie Emerson and Ace Curry. Junior Sheon James is another big-play threat for coach Bill County’s club.
Deering (3-6) won three of its last four regular-season games last fall to earn a playoff berth, and now first-year coach Scott Parsons faces a rebuilding effort while attempting to build on that momentum.
Windham (4-5) has been a consistent postseason qualifier in its decade as a Class A program — defeating Bangor in the 2009 state final — and should be in line for a playoff berth despite a youthful roster.
Edward Little of Auburn (2-7) is expected to field one of the more wide-open offenses in Eastern A, with junior Ian Mlelikis and senior Brandin Knowlton competing to quarterback the Red Eddies’ pistol formation.
Senior Johnny Boyd is the Red Eddies’ top returning rusher, while nose guard Dan Williams and linebacker Andrew St. Pierre will spearhead the defense.
Oxford Hills (3-6) secured its most victories since 2007 last fall but will have to overcome some youth and inexperience to improve upon that effort in 2013.
Junior fullback-defensive end Malik Geiger returns to the Vikings’ lineup, while classmate Brady Lafrance is expected to take over at quarterback.
Reigning state champion Thornton Academy of Saco, led by 2012 Maine Gatorade player of the year Andrew Libby at running back and defensive back, is expected to be one of the top teams in the new Western A, while Scarborough and Bonny Eagle of Standish could be among the Trojans’ chief challengers in the division.
Other Western A schools are Sanford, Massabesic of Waterboro, Noble of North Berwick, South Portland and Biddeford. South Portland and Biddeford both are Class B schools by enrollment but opted to petition up to Class A for the next four years.