HAMPDEN, Maine — The last time the Hampden Academy football team graduated a huge senior class, it came back the next fall with one of its best records in recent history.
That was in 2010, when the Broncos finished 8-2 and made the second of three straight Pine Tree Conference Class B semifinal appearances.
This fall offers a similar challenge, as Hampden seeks to fill the void left by a big graduating class that helped the Broncos finish third in the Pine Tree Conference with a 7-1 regular-season record before being upset in the regional quarterfinals by sixth-seeded Waterville.
Now, another large senior class awaits its chance to lead the way.
“This year, the seniors are definitely acting as leaders on the team,” said senior lineman Cam Prescott. “With that leadership, we can help the underclassmen on the team understand that we want to win, and we want that gold ball.”
Player turnover is one of several changes involving the Hampden program this fall, including a new head coach in Kevin Canty.
“People say we graduated a lot of seniors,” said Canty. “But we’ve also got a lot of seniors  back.”
One reason for that optimism is the potential of the underclassmen on the roster.
“Things have been going great, and during the scrimmages, the underclassmen have been doing great, so I don’t have too many huge worries going into the season,” said senior end John Chen. “I’ve known a lot of these guys since I’ve been real young, so I can’t wait for this year.”
Canty, a veteran college assistant coach who spent the last two years at Husson University in Bangor, was hired to replace Harry McCluskey, who retired last spring after guiding Hampden to a 47-30 record over eight years.
Canty began introducing elements of his game plan to over the summer and said players arrived for the start of preseason practices in mid-August ready to implement those lessons.
“They’ve done a good job picking up the system we want to run,” said Canty.
That system is expected to include an offense that utilizes the passing skills of senior Matt Martin, a returning starter at quarterback with a quick release and a strong arm. He is a also a right-handed pitcher that has already verbally committed to play baseball at the University of Maine after he graduates next spring.
“This year’s a little different, a lot more up tempo,” said senior wide receiver and defensive back Dan Marquis, who will be among Martin’s passing targets along with classmate Austin Spencer, a transfer from John Bapst of Bangor who was quarterback for the Crusaders in the 2012 Eastern C title game. “We want to go, we want to score, and we want to stop the other team’s offense.”
The Broncos’ schedule also is different, as is much about Eastern Maine Class B.
Only Hampden, Brewer, Gardiner and 2012 state champion Mt. Blue of Farmington remain in Eastern B from a year ago. They have been joined by former Class A programs Lawrence of Fairfield, Cony of Augusta, Messalonskee of Oakland, Brunswick and Skowhegan as part of the new four-class high school football format statewide.
Those nine programs combined for a 62-21 record last year, with all but Skowhegan qualifying for postseason play in Class A or Class B.
It’s a stacked league that has been labeled the NFC East by some followers, or as Canty described it, “Class ‘B’east.”
And while there remains familiarity with some opponents, the new teams on the schedule lend an air of mystery to the coming season.
“I’ve just never seen a lot of them play so I don’t know what to expect, but I think it’s exciting,” said senior noseguard Jack Barteaux.
The star power of the former Class A schools — Lawrence is the two-time defending Eastern Maine Class A champion — has left some teams like Hampden feeling overlooked despite the Broncos’ 28-11 record over the last four years.
“I told the kids I don’t mind being a 7-2 team that nobody’s talking about, that’s under the radar,” said Canty.
That recent success has left veterans on the roster not worried about what others think, but focused on their own play.
“With our team I feel like we have the destiny to control our outcome,” said Marquis. “If we lose it’s because of us. If we win it’s because of us. That’s how our team is this year.”