Winslow High School won the Western Maine Class C football championship two years ago and last fall earned the Eastern C crown.
This year coach Mike Siviski’s club has higher ambitions — the program’s first state title since 2001.
“It’s definitely good to get back out here, we’ve got a good crew,” said Winslow senior Bobby Chenard after his team’s recent preseason game at Bucksport. “The past two years we’ve kind of been shut out in the state game and we feel like we can have a good run this season and get back there and hopefully win one this time.”
Winslow went 9-2 last year after falling to Leavitt of Turner Center in the state championship game, and while the Black Raiders’ roster is youthful, considerable talent returns.
That includes Chenard, a third-year starter at quarterback who already has played in two state finals, classmate Dylan Hapworth, a top running back, defensive back and kicker, and 6-foot-5 senior wide receiver and linebacker Justin Martin.
That trio is among just seven seniors on a roster that also lacks the physical size of its immediate predecessor, leaving Siviski — the Black Raiders’ 30th-year coach — to focus on other priorities.
“We’re physically small, so we’d really like to be very good football technicians and do what we’re supposed to do and do it right,” he said. “If you’re small you better be quick and fast and we’d like to develop that, play good assignment football and just become better football players overall.”
Those hoping to dethrone the Black Raiders include rival Waterville.
The Purple Panthers, who fell to Winslow in last year’s regional final, have a new coaching staff led by Matt Gilley — one of three first-year head coaches in the division — but a roster similar in composition to last year’s 8-2 team.
Waterville’s strength will be along the line of scrimmage, where four starters return to pave the way for senior running back Dan Pooler at the head of a punishing ground game.
Foxcroft Academy of Dover-Foxcroft is diversifying its offense to capitalize on considerable team speed, particularly from senior halfback Peter Boyer and 6-foot-3 junior wideout Hunter Smith.
“I feel really good about it because I don’t think we’re one-dimensional,” said FA coach Danny White. “I don’t think we’re shaping up to rely too heavily on any one aspect of the game, and as a coach you’ve got to like that.”
Belfast defeated Foxcroft in last year’s quarterfinals, and while the Lions graduated most of their offensive backs, a deep and experienced line returns.
“That’s our strength, which makes it nice,” said Belfast coach Chris Bartlett. “If you have a good offensive line you can teach people to run through the holes.”
Andrew Goguen returns at fullback for Belfast, while Drew Nealey steps in at quarterback after starting defensively a year ago. Alex Canning, an outside linebacker on defense, will play tailback on offense, while Marlin Hansen, a two-way all-conference lineman last fall, will move to tight end on offense.
Mount Desert Island, another 2013 semifinalist, graduated Eastern Maine Class C player of the year Teagan Candage, the league’s top rusher last fall, and QB Jon Phelps.
But the Trojans’ T-offense has churned out a quality ground game with regularity in recent years, and seniors Taner Bickford and Jalique Keene and junior Sandy Henggeler should provide coach Mark Shields’ otherwise youthful club with a steady supply of ball control.
Things are on the upswing at Old Town, where Victory Field has been refurbished and so have the football hopes, with the Coyotes qualifying for postseason play last fall.
New coach Lance Cowan has a fairly experienced roster from which to pursue a playoff return. Senior RB-LBs Braden Upshaw and Jake Barnaby and senior FB-DT Cody Whitmore will be among the team leaders, while junior wideout Andre Miller should aid the passing game.
“It’s going to be a very tight league in my opinion,” said Cowan, a former Old Town assistant who served in a similar capacity at Class B Brewer last fall. “A lot of the teams are very competitive, and some teams that were in the lower level last season have improved so that from the bottom to the top the gap between the teams is going to be closer than last year.”
One of those improving teams is Nokomis of Newport. A Class B team by enrollment competing in Class C in 2013 and 2014, the Warriors aren’t eligible for postseason play but second-year coach Matt O’Connell returns eight starters offensively and defensively, including first-team all-conference lineman Jake Nichols and first-team defensive back Josh King, who doubles as the Warriors’ starting quarterback.
Noah Kershner is expected to pace the Nokomis rushing attack while Ray Girrior is a returning all-league wide receiver.
Madison-Carrabec eyes improvement on last year’s 2-6 finish, and while the roster numbers are low there is big-play capability in senior RB-LBs Jordan Curtis and Cody Soucier and additional senior leadership from lineman Jared Lightbody.
“As a lot of coaches know it’s going to come down to if can we hold up and can we execute, but I like our chances,” said Bulldogs coach Scott Franzose. “We have good team speed and I like our aggressiveness on defense. It’s coming together.”
Roster numbers also are an issue at Camden Hills, like Nokomis ineligible for the playoffs. Senior Kaylo Littlejohn, an all-conference choice at guard and linebacker last year, will play fullback, while junior Nick Rozsahegyi is a third-year starter at quarterback. Other key players are seniors Wyatt Summers and Nate Pascal and juniors Taylor Crosby and Jake Chamberlain.
“If we can stay healthy we could have a good year,” said Windjammers coach Steve Wadsworth. “The good thing is we have a good number of three-year returning starters.”
There’s renewed optimism at Hermon, where new coach Brad Deuring leads the program into its third season of varsity competition.
A solid corps of seniors led by running back David Shepardson will seek to return the Hawks to their winning ways of 2012, when they finished 5-3.