Bangor High School football coach Dave Morris hands off the ball during practice at the school last Tuesday. Credit: Gabor Degre

The Bangor High School football team returns to a new-look Class A this fall with the same modest goal it had a year ago — to exhibit continued improvement.

Whether the Rams will grow more competitive this fall remains to be seen, but second-year head coach Dave Morris and a youthful Bangor program that has endured a 3-31 record over the last four years are focused more on the day-to-day football experience than the ultimate challenge of competing with the likes of defending state champion Thornton Academy of Saco, Bonny Eagle of Standish and Scarborough.

“It’s great that you play good competition, you want to be able to play the best,” Morris said. “In terms of who’s in Class A, obviously we’ll deal with each team as we play them, but we have enough on our plate so if we focus on what we need to do and who we are and where we want to go, we’ll be prepared for every game we play.”

The makeup of Class A rivaled the introduction of an eight-player division as the dominant story during the football offseason, with many of the smaller schools in what had been a two-division, 14-team format reluctant to return because of the imposing presence of Thornton Academy and Bonny Eagle — two of the five football schools statewide with an enrollment greater than 1,000, along with Lewiston, Bangor and Oxford Hills of South Paris.

Those smaller schools — some with 500 to 700 less in enrollment than Thornton Academy and Lewiston — ultimately won that battle.

[How Bangor won its first football game since 2015]

That left Class A with just the state’s eight largest football-playing schools — also including Edward Little of Auburn, Scarborough and Sanford — in a single division while Class B swelled to 22 programs that include Portland’s Cheverus, Deering and Portland high schools as well as South Portland, Windham and Massabesic of Waterboro, all down from Class A.

That leaves Bangor with a nine-game schedule, including seven contests against its remaining Class A foes, as well as two crossover matchups against Class B rivals, Friday night’s season opener at Cameron Stadium against Brewer and an Oct. 4 date at Skowhegan.

“I think the league is going to definitely have a lot of strong teams,” Morris said. “I think our kids in some ways maybe are naive to it but at the same time I think a lot of them are looking forward to it.

“Sometimes we pay too much attention to schedules versus who you are and what you can do.”

Bangor, 1-8 a year ago, took 54 players to last Friday’s exhibition game at Lawrence of Fairfield, with the Rams’ roster depth most noticeable in the junior and sophomore classes.

“A lot of the guys we have right now were on some of the teams that were winning [at the younger levels],” said Bangor junior James Neel, a halfback and linebacker who likely will key the Rams’ rushing attack with classmate Jonny Lyon.

“Last year a lot of the guys didn’t really know how to win because they had never been in that position before but a lot of us here now have been successful in the past so hopefully that will add to the chemistry we have.”

[Bangor among only 8 schools in its division under new football proposal]

There’s also a growing familiarity with the system Morris has installed within the Bangor program.

“I think our offensive line with just having another year of experience seems to be more in unison,” he said. “Our receivers, backs and quarterbacks also have another year under their belts with their coaches. I would say we’re a little ahead of where we were last year, not so much because of the players who were there last year and this year, but as coaches we’re more in unison as well.

“We’ve got a lot of young kids with talent.”

Bangor’s line play will be anchored by a pair of senior tackles, Bryce Henaire and Ezra Hamer-Nagle.

“I feel like it will be better this year,” Hamer-Nagle said. “We’ve played a year for coach Morris now and we understand what he wants, so now it’s about getting wins.”

Sophomore Max Clark is expected to step in as the starting quarterback, with classmates Colton Trisch and Ben Caron also able to play behind center though Trisch’s versatility likely will earn him time at slotback, wide receiver and defensive back.

[As 8-player football begins in Maine, schools are figuring out how to play the game]

Junior Eli Bradford is expected to help at wide receiver and defensive back, while classmates Cason Markevich, Nick Fournier, Alex Sewell and Matt Trueworthy also are likely contributors to the Rams’ effort.

“Our number one goal is we want to be the best we can be every day,” Morris said. “It’s real easy to look down the road, but we just want to worry about today and take it on a week-by-week basis.

“We’ll have our day in the sun here just like every team does, and I think the biggest thing for us is just to keep working to get better.”

Related: This is how eight-person football works

Ernie Clark

Ernie Clark is a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters...