The Hermon Hawks announced their arrival in the upper echelon of Class C North football last fall, parlaying a 7-1 regular season into a regional championship-game appearance.
As it begins its ninth year of varsity play, Hermon is focused on making sure such heights are the norm rather than the exception.
“We had a great senior group last year that really took it upon themselves to put Hermon football on the map,” third-year coach Kyle Gallant said. “What we have now is great senior leadership that definitely learned from those guys last year and are focused on taking it another step.”
Hermon must overcome the likes of perennial power Winslow and one of the top programs of this decade in Maine Central Institute of Pittsfield, not to mention the depth of a division from which two 4-4 teams — MCI and Nokomis of Newport — have captured the past two Class C state championships.
“Conference-wise from top to bottom, Class C North is difficult,” Nokomis coach Jake Rogers said. “You can’t just look at your schedule and say there’s a win, because even the teams that are inexperienced are going to fight for the most part.”
Hermon graduated Fitzpatrick Trophy semifinalist Garrett Trask, but he will be replaced at quarterback by multisport athlete Wyatt Gogan. The junior leads an experienced group of backs and receivers that includes seniors Travis Spell and River Mullen and junior Zach Tubbs.
The Hawks also return three starters on the offensive and defensive fronts, and two other veterans with considerable experience.
“I’m really happy with this group. They’ve bought into the culture and bought into what we expect of them,” Gallant said.
Winslow is guided by one of the deans of the state’s high school football coaching fraternity in Mike Siviski, now in his 35th year at his alma mater.
The Black Raiders (6-4) reached the regional semifinals a year ago and graduated only four seniors. Among the top returning players are senior quarterback Colby Pomeroy at quarterback, and senior Isaiah Goldsmith and Rob Clark as other playmakers.
MCI is 56-10 since the start of the 2013 season with two state championships and four state final appearances under coach Tom Bertrand.
The Huskies’ 2018 season ended with a 13-0 semifinal playoff loss to Nokomis, but they should be poised for a return to title contention.
“We’re pretty experienced in all the skill positions and have three returning starting linemen and some other guys who were right there last year ready to earn a spot,” Bertrand said. “We’ve got decent depth and feel we can be pretty competitive on both sides of the ball.”
The offense is triggered by junior Ryan Friend, a third-year starter at quarterback, with junior running back-linebacker Cole Steeves a key two-way presence.
Senior Isaac Bussell anchors the offensive line at guard and the defense at middle linebacker. Senior Harrison Sites and sophomore Bryce Bussell, Isaac’s cousin, are other top returnees on the line.
The return to Crabtree Points — which emphasize strength of schedule for determining regular-season standings — and a tiered scheduling approach to create more competitive matchups may open the door for some teams to move up the rankings.
Several schools from among a deep pack that includes Medomak Valley of Waldoboro, Mount Desert Island of Bar Harbor, John Bapst of Bangor, Belfast, Oceanside of Rockland, Waterville, Nokomis and Old Town could parlay that opportunity as well as stable or increasing roster sizes into a spot in the division’s eight-team playoffs.
“Not only are our numbers up, but our senior count is up to 15, and anytime you have a collective group like that, not only does the experience level but the expectation level goes up because these kids have logged a lot of minutes and are excited to take the next step for the program,” said John Bapst coach Dan O’Connell, whose team numbers 42 players.
Seniors Jake Chapman, Devlin Crowley and Colby Fournier, and junior Connor Young provide experience up front, while senior Wilson Higgins returns at quarterback with Quinn Mitchell a top receiving target. Football newcomer Max Chadwick is a speed threat at running back.
Medomak Valley, which debuted as a varsity program in 2015, earned its first postseason berth last fall and is ready to contend again.
“We return an experienced senior group,” Medomak coach Ryan Snell said.
“Younger players are going to need to grow early to provide depth as we look to build off our first playoff berth last year,” he said.
MDI came on strong late last fall, averaging 54 points per game in season-ending wins over John Bapst and Belfast to finish 3-5.
Coach Mark Arnold’s Trojans have nearly 40 players, including junior Baylor Landesman, a returning starter at quarterback, and junior halfback Hunter Gray.
Coach Lance Cowan’s Old Town club relies on a similar roster size to improve on last fall’s 2-6 campaign, while Oceanside pursues its fifth straight postseason appearance under coach Wes Drinkwater.
Belfast has a new head coach in Brian Goff and a nucleus of veteran players poised to pursue a playoff berth. And Nokomis, which graduated 13 seniors from last year’s championship team, looks to rebuild behind returning veterans Jayden Brooks, Beau Briggs, Nick Lincoln and four-year starting center Andy Hopkins.
“We’re trying to build confidence so they can play faster,” Rogers said. “You can’t play fast unless you’re confident.”