The Class B football ranks produced Eastern Maine’s lone state champion last year, with Cony High School riding the arm of star quarterback Ben Lucas to the school’s first gold ball since 1932.
Which team emerges this fall from the league informally dubbed the “NFC East” because of the depth of tradition-laden teams is uncertain, as graduation took a heavy toll on several of 2013’s top clubs.
Brunswick, which reached the regional final a year ago, boasts perhaps the league’s best rushing duo in senior fullback Alex Bandouveres and junior halfback Will Bessey, but coach Dan Cooper’s club is rebuilding along the line of scrimmage.
Cony turns to senior Mitchell Caron as its new quarterback, while Taylor Carrier is a returning all-conference receiver and junior running back and linebacker Reid Shostak is another prominent contributor.
Skowhegan seeks to continue its improvement under third-year head coach Matt Friedman, with senior Kaleb Brown the key back behind solid-line play, while Messalonskee of Oakland turns to two-way standout Jake Dexter to lead the way and Lawrence of Fairfield will attempt to regroup after a sub-.500 effort last fall.
Mt. Blue of Farmington welcomes a new coach in Jim Alyward, who replaces the retired Gary Parlin with the Cougars after a 25-year run at Mountain Valley of Rumford where his teams won four state titles and seven regional championships.
Hampden Academy went 5-3 and qualified for the Eastern B playoffs a year ago before being ousted by Mt. Blue in the quarterfinals, and second-year Broncos coach Kevin Canty believes his returning players’ increased familiarity with his system will pay dividends this fall.
“A year in the weight room with the expectations I had is starting to show,” he said. “We’re a more physical team, especially defensively. But for what I wanted them to do I think we did a great job last year. I can’t wait to see what we do this year being it’s the second year in the system.”
The Broncos return three starters to the offensive and defensive fronts including senior captains Nick Haggan and Alex Hollis. Save for senior running back and captain Isaiah Olson, there will be a new look in the Hampden backfield and receiving corps.
Senior Derek Jesiolowski and junior Tom Farrar are contending for starting quarterback duties.
“I’m confident in both guys,” said Canty. “I know what they can do and what they can’t do, and all I’m asking them to do is be a manager out there. My job is to put them in the best position to be successful.”
Haggan, a two-way all-conference choice last fall, spearheads the Broncos’ defense along with two other all-league honorees in junior linebacker Billy Campbell and junior defensive back Jake Black.
“The key factors that will determine how successful we are this year are our players’ attitudes. They’ll take us as far as we can go,” said Canty. “From a defensive perspective I think we’re a good enough team to go deep in the playoffs. We’ve just got to cover up some of the little mistakes we made during the preseason.”
Nick Arthers debuts at Brewer after guiding Old Town to a Class C playoff berth last fall.
Brewer finished 1-7 a year ago but with some 50 players out for the team this season there’s long-term optimism within the Witches’ camp.
“One of my main goals is to get all the kids on the same page and headed in the same direction, and from there the wins will start coming and from there you make playoffs and the eventual goal is a state championship,” said Arthers.
“But I tell them that first it takes baby steps. You’ve got to have that highest goal in mind or you shouldn’t be out there playing, but we’ve got to take one goal at a time and work our way up.”
Among the early transitional steps being taken is a switch offensively from the double wing and pistol spread formations the team played in recent years to the double-dive concepts Arthers found success with as a player at Belfast during the early 2000’s under his father, former longtime coach Butch Arthers.
“The kids have adapted pretty well,” said Arthers. “They’re real excited about the new system and it’s a team that’s excited about the game. They’re a group of kids who have been on the wrong side of some games in the last couple of years and they want to succeed and they want to be good.”
Junior Logan Rogerson returns at quarterback, and he’ll be aided offensively by senior backs Austin Pagnozzi and Mark Smith and senior tight end Tyler Davis.
“We’ve got a very young offensive line and Rogerson at quarterback so we’ve got a pretty young team in terms of guys in key spots,” said Arthers.
Arthers guided Old Town from a 1-7 record in his first season with the Coyotes to a 4-4 record last fall but knows patience will be an important virtue as he takes on his latest rebuilding effort.
“You’ve got to be real patient because it’s not like the kids are going to pick everything up automatically,” he said. “It’s a completely new system, new terminology and it’s been a struggle at times over the course of the summer but the kids are starting to get it.
“We’ve got some guys who are really stepping up and trying to teach some of the younger kids. They’re working really hard at it, but you’ve got to work with them every day.”
In Western B, Oceanside of Rockland-Thomaston welcomed 40 players to preseason practices in an effort to improve on last year’s 2-6 finish.
“Athletically I feel like this year across the board, especially on defense, we are better by far,” said second-year Mariners’ coach Wes Drinkwater. “The only thing we’re lacking is a little bit of depth in some spots.”
Oceanside is led by senior running back and outside linebacker Preston Spear and will be aided by two other veterans whose junior seasons were cut short by early season injuries.
Starting quarterback Ryan Allender is back to run the Mariners’ wing-T offense after being sidelined by an ankle injury during the second game of the 2013 campaign, while two-way tackle Dylan McClean is returning from a knee injury.
“Ryan’s a smart kid and a very good athlete and he fits our style of offense very well,” said Drinkwater. “Dylan sets the tone for us on the offensive line.”
One key for Oceanside is to survive physically its back-to-back games in the second and third weeks of the season against Western B preseason favorite Marshwood of South Berwick and reigning regional champion Kennebunk. Last fall the Mariners were decimated by injuries in those contests, including those suffered by Allender and McClean.