ROCKPORT — The Camden Hills football team made significant strides as a second-year varsity program last fall.
Winless during their debut season in 2009, the Windjammers earned their first trip to the Pine Tree Conference Class B playoffs in 2010.
Now comes the quest for staying power.
Gone are the six seniors who served as the building blocks for the program, led by quarterback Collin Downs — now at Army — and 1,500-yard tailback Jacob Powers — now wrestling collegiately.
But while some of the star power may be gone, the returning Windjammers are hoping to show that they have learned from their previous leaders.
“We had six quality seniors last year, and all of them had been in our program since its inception,” said Camden Hills coach Linwood Downs. “They led the program and now they’re gone, they’re doing their thing, and the other guys who have been in the shadows have to step up. They’ve got to take it upon themselves to rise to the occasion and step up and take charge of the team.”
Much of the Windjammers’ returning experience resides on the line of scrimmage with senior captains Brandon Graffam, James Gushee and Travis Milner. Rhett Chase, another senior, could be an impact player at tight end and on the defensive front.
“We have a young team but we also have some pretty seasoned veterans, a veteran line,” said Graffam.
Junior captain Alex Crans steps in at quarterback, while freshmen Chris Weiss and Colt Muir, sophomore Isaac Young and juniors Coleman Powers and Caleb McFarland will handle the rushing chores.
“I think we have more athletes,” said Downs, “but what we don’t have is a lot of experience, so what I’m looking for is to see kids over time building up that football experience. As for the season, we have the capability of achieving the record we had last year, but we have to do it with more than the two guys who kind of carried the load for the last few years.
“If we can get that, if we can get these kids to believe they can do it, I think we’ll be in good shape.”
Powers, Young and McFarland are examples of players that have found their way to the football program from other sports, McFarland from basketball while Powers and Young are among several wrestlers on the 31-player squad.
“I’m starting to get kids who are athletes from other sports in the school,” said Downs. “We’re starting to get those guys, we just need more of them. The numbers are the numbers we have, but to have the program where it needs to be we need about 10 more players.”
Ultimately Downs expects those additional players will come from the youth feeder program.
“Last year our middle-school team went 8-1 and played quality teams like Hampden and Bangor, so we’re getting success at the lower levels and we’re getting more numbers at the lower levels,” he said. “ I’m pretty optimistic about the future as far as the interest goes, it just takes time because in our community we have a huge soccer program that’s been successful and attracts a lot of kids.
“But there’s plenty of room for football. We’ll get there.”
In the meantime, there’s the pursuit of a return trip to postseason play for this year’s team.
“I think if we keep improving week on week we’ll do well,” said Gushee. “We have a lot of things to improve on, but if we can do that we’ll have a good season.”
Camden Hills will host Morse of Bath in a mutual opener on Saturday at 1:30 p.m.
CAMDEN HILLS WINDJAMMERS
2010 results: 4-5, qualified for Pine Tree Conference Class B playoffs
Head coach: Linwood Downs, 3rd year
Key players: Rhett Chase, TE-DL, Sr., Capt.; Travis Milner, OL-LB, Sr., Capt.; Ryan Graffam, OL-LB, Sr., Capt.; James Gushee, OL-LB, Sr., Capt.; Brandon Graffam, OL-DL, Sr., Capt.; Alex Crans, QB-DB, Jr., Capt.; Chris Weiss, RB-LB, Fr.; Coleman Powers, WR-DB, Jr.; Colt Muir, FB-LB, Fr.; Jacob Moulton, OL-DL, Jr.; Caleb Pease, WR-LB, Sr.
Outlook: The Camden Hills football program is steadily building momentum, but while last year’s playoff run was fueled by its backfield, this year’s success will be based in its line play. The Windjammers showed signs of being a solid defensive team during preseason, and the development of new players in the secondary and offensive backfield will be pivotal to the team’s efforts to return to postseason play.