PITTSFIELD, Maine — When LTC football coaches speak of competitive parity within their ranks, recent history backs them up.
No team has repeated as LTC champion since Foxcroft Academy won three straight between 2005 and 2007, and no current conference member has defended a title successfully since Stearns of Millinocket earned five consecutively between 1991 and 1995.
Securing the title this year may be even tougher, as the LTC, which is Eastern Maine Class D, has added an 11th team in Houlton but reduced its playoff field from six to four qualifiers.
Bucksport will be seeking its third LTC crown in the last four years, but 20th-year head coach Joel Sankey is not one for making predictions.
“The league is always competitive,” he said.
The Golden Bucks figure to be one of the top contenders again this fall, along with Maine Central Institute of Pittsfield and Mattanawcook Academy of Lincoln.
“Bucksport is the team to beat, they only lost four or five kids,” said MCI coach Tom Bertrand. “They got there last year, they get there a lot, and they know how to get there, so we know that to be the best you’ve got to beat the best.”
Bucksport counts 2013 LTC player of the year Josh Gray among its graduation losses but returns 13 seniors including quarterback Matt Stewart, running back-linebacker Jack Cyr, lineman-linebacker KP Hilaire and two-way tackle Alec Dyer.
“We do have some people back, but, like anybody else in Class D, numbers are a problem,” said Sankey. “We have about 38 kids but we’ve got a bunch of younger kids so we’ve got to stay healthy and try to improve from week to week.”
MCI enjoyed massive improvement a year ago, rising from 0-8 in 2012 to 7-2 and a trip to the conference semifinals.
The Huskies will be led by the LTC’s leading rusher in 2013, senior tailback Jonathan Santiago, along with two-way end Mitchell Hallee, offensive tackle-linebacker Nick Deckert, fullback-linebacker Alex Bertrand and quarterback Greg Vigue.
“I think we’re hungry for it,” said Deckert. “We got closer to the states last year, we were one game away from Eastern Maines, so I think it just gave us the hunger to want it even more and the determination to go get it.”
Mattanawcook reached the LTC championship game a year ago and will count on experience, talent and depth along the line of scrimmage to lead its quest for another deep postseason run.
“We’re senior-laden, and I like the depth up front,’ said second-year Lynx head coach Bill McCarthy. “We’re versatile up front with seven or eight different players and we hope to be able to wear people down.”
Seniors Garrett Neal, Tanner McCarthy and Jonathan Libby anchor MA’s line play, with a fourth captain, senior back Holden Kimball, among a fairly deep contingent of rushers and receivers.
“Offensively I think we can be more diversified this year,” coach McCarthy said. “They’re a confident group, and it’s good to be confident, but you’ve still got to let the pads do the talking once you step between the lines.”
John Bapst reached the LTC final five times in six seasons before slipping to 2-6 last fall.
The Crusaders graduated just five players but remain young, with just six seniors on the current roster — though coach Dan O’Connell’s roster returns seven starters on offense and eight on defense.
Junior Spencer Baron is back at quarterback and will team with seniors Jackson Leonard and Lucas Davenport to anchor the defense at linebacker.
Orono enters this season without at least one of the talented and now graduated Mowrer brothers (Dominic, Cameron and Christian) sparking its ground game for the first time in several years.
And that may prompt an adjustment in how the Red Riots play offensively, as sophomore quarterback Jackson Coutts provides more of a passing threat than Orono has utilized in recent years.
Among those returning to Orono’s 24-player roster are the team’s lone seniors, back Tom Lucy and lineman Brawley Benson, and junior two-way tackle Seamus McKaig.
Dexter is aiming for a return trip to the playoffs after falling to Orono in last year’s quarterfinals, though with the graduation of standout quarterback Trevor Fogarty coach Kevin Armstrong anticipates spreading out the offensive responsibilities more this fall.
“We’ve got four different backs that we feel can get quality reps, so we’re going to distribute the ball,” said Armstrong, whose team returns six starters on offense and defense. “I think we’re just as good as any other team in the LTC. When it comes down to the end of the season I feel like if we can make one of those four [playoff] spots we’ll have just as much of a shot as anyone else.”
Stearns is adjusting to a late head coaching switch, as longtime defensive coordinator John Jamo now leads the Minutemen after Chris Preble ended his 13-year head coaching tenure just as preseason practices were about to begin to take a new job.
Stearns does boast a solid cast of returning players from last year’s 2-6 club led by senior running back and linebacker Marc Morneault, considered among the LTC’s top ballcarriers.
Washington Academy nearly upended Mattanawcook in the first round of last year’s playoffs as the Raiders continued to make gradual strides in its brief varsity experience.
WA returns one of the league’s top linemen in senior Dakota Cates-Wright, while classmates Colin Pineo and Ellic Smith give coach Barry Terrill’s club a strong rushing tandem.
Eligibility issues have diminished the size of Mount View of Thorndike’s roster and left the Mustangs thin along the line of scrimmage entering the season, while Ellsworth-Sumner begins its third varsity season with a youthful squad led by its junior class.
And Houlton brings varsity football back to Aroostook County for the first time in 64 years, with coach Brian Reynolds’ Shiretowners led by two-way tackle Anthony Bonilla and running backs Jake Drew and Josh Upton.