Jen & I have been covering high school sports together for close to 10 years, and in that time, we have been a part of roughly 40 championship celebrations.
When you have that much experience, you know when it's your time with the team on camera and when it's time to back away.
Those moments right after the game are strictly for the players and their coaches.
Only they know what that first practice of the season felt like and how far they came.
How much work the climb to the top took and how many times it nearly ended.
You stay away until the coach calls you over because that is their time. That's the moment they and they alone earned. You're just there to document it so they can watch it with their kids someday.
When a Gatorade-soaked Robin Bowkett of Souhegan waved us over, his team began lining up for their on-camera/Instagram moment.
As they did, Bowkett and I did something between a hug & a chest bump.
Often you talk to a coach in the pre-season, and without ever having met him in person, you just come away liking the person. Robin Bowkett was one of those guys for me when I first spoke with him five years ago.
I couldn't have been happier for him in the moment, even as I was heartbroken for my friend Chris Sanborn and the Plymouth Bobcats across the field.
As Jen set her video camera and the kids waited excitedly, I looked at Robin and said, 'Man, you did it!'
He looked at me with a huge grin and said, 'I can't believe we got through the season. We made it to the end."
He wasn't just talking about his team.
He was talking about Nashua North, Goffstown, Plymouth, Pelham, Stevens, Somersworth, and Newport. All the teams that had a say in how their season ended.
That's all a player or coach can ask for.
The 2021 season will be determined on the field and not by decisions or circumstances off of it.
There is no clear favorite in Division II. If Souhegan & Plymouth are getting back to the championship game (which will not be played at UNH but on a neutral turf field), they will be doing it with an almost entirely new cast of characters.
There are favorites, to be sure, but Division II is up for grabs, and today, in our second of four football previews, we take a look at both conferences as eighteen teams begin the quest to stand where Souhegan did a year ago.
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*- Playoff team
West Conference Predicted Order
Just two years ago, Chris Childs' Lebanon Raiders walked off the field at UNH after falling in the Division III championship game to Trinity (Game highlights & post-game interview).
The all-state duo of Jon Willeman & Wade Rainey were graduating, and Lebanon was looking at a move to Division II, where they would be among the smallest schools in the division.
For most programs, that would be the beginning of what could be a rapid descent, but Childs knew something that day the rest of us did not; he had another elite class on the way up, and this wasn't going to be their last shot at a title.
"This has always been a very driven group; it's just their personality," said Childs. "They (the seniors) understand this is their last shot at it. They want to make memories; they want this to be something they remember for the rest of their lives."
Lebanon was undefeated a year ago and coming off of a one-sided quarterfinal win over a good Bow football team when their season was abruptly canceled due to a member of Bow testing positive for Covid.
That was a bitter pill to swallow, as they were set to host Plymouth, who was then given a bye to the championship game against Souhegan.
Childs admits that outcome still stings, but he's coached too many games to let his players linger on something that happened ten months ago. "When you have the rug pulled out on you like that, it knocks you backward; it really does," said Childs.
"But it isn't anything we dwell on. We are in a very tough division, and I think the strongest conference. It's going to be a battle every week, and that needs to be our focus."
The pre-season buzz around the Raiders begins with one of the best football players in the state, quarterback/LB/S Jackson Stone.
The term 'leads by example, not by their words', gets thrown around a lot. Trust me, with Jackson, it applies perfectly.
"I can't get five words out of him on most days," jokes Childs. "He's a terrific athlete, and he's very smart. We expect a lot out of him this season, and I believe he's up for it."
The backfield is loaded, where their top three backs would be the #1 back on most teams.
CJ Childs, the team's leading tackler a year ago, returns to the backfield and will be joined by Cole Shambo & Nyeoti Punni, who is a breakaway threat every time he touches the football. "Our running backs are certainly a strength of our team," said Childs. "We are going to go as far as they take us."
Justin DeCarlo will be part of a solid group of wide receivers that includes Tanner Ames & Mason Arado.
A big strength of the team is their play in the trenches. The offensive line will be led by Zach Whitcomb, who might be the team's unsung hero, Cam Davio, Sebastian Yates, Steve Miller, Connor Brown, and Logan Rafter.
"That's a very hard-working group, and there is experience as well," said Childs. "You can't win without good play on the lines, and we like the guys we have competing in those spots for us."
CJ Childs is back at linebacker, along with Punni and Cam Davio, a standout defensive end who was second on the team in tackles last season. "Cam did all that while a lot of teams were running away from the side he was lining up on," said Childs. "That was impressive to see."
Jackson Stone will line up at several spots, including linebacker & safety, depending on what the offense is doing, and will be joined in the secondary by Mason Arado and Sawyer Beaulieu.
With eight starters back on offense and seven on defense, Lebanon is clearly among the teams to beat come November.
"One of the benefits of having a veteran group is they understand you can only play one game at a time. We are excited to compete. It's going to be a wide-open division, and we hope we are one of the teams' there in the end."
Would you rather have?
There’s a good argument that could be made for either side and who better to ask than longtime Milford head coach Keith Jones, one of the most respected coaches in New Hampshire and someone known for his ground & pound offense.
The answer, as it turns out, is you can be really successful either way.
“Two years ago we had an outstanding offensive line and they led the way for our running backs. This year we have two all-state running backs, and I’m confident we are going to create some running room for both of them.”
In Caden Zalenski and Logan Barnhill the Spartans feature two of the best running backs in the division.
A pair that have started on both sides of the ball for three years and come ready from Day 1 to produce for what should be a very good football team.
“We have the personnel to run the football and play good defense, and that’s what we are looking to do every season,” said Jones. “Everyone has improved and the effort level so far in the pre-season has been very good.”
Joining the all-state duo of Barnhill & Zalenski in the backfield is junior quarterback Charlie Urda, who feels like the 17th Urda brother I have covered because they all seem to play four years of varsity football.
Sophomore Cade Cloutier has played well in the pre-season and will see carries behind Urda, Barnhill & Zalenski.
Tight end Harris Jones, son of the head coach, will also step in and contribute right away along with wide receiver Trice Cote, son of assistant coach Travis Cote.
“We have a very good skill group,” said Jones. “The offensive line is a work in progress but they are coming together and as an offense we have a lot of potential.”
6’4 235 lb. Ben Kilgore will anchor the offensive and defensive lines along with 6’4 220 Keagan Hatch. The competition for the other spots remains open but Matt Rolan looks to have earned a spot with his play in the pre-season.
Defensively Zalenski, CJ Gahm and Kaleb Francoeur will lead the linebackers in the Spartans 4-3 defense while Barnhill & Mike Lima will man the secondary alongside Urda & Cote.
“It’s a tough division every year and especially this season in the West (conference),” said Jones. “There are a lot of good football teams led by some very good coaches. It’s going to be a grind week to week but that’s what we want. We’re excited to get going.”
Souhegan head coach Robin Bowkett will be one of the few people you meet who won't make a disgusted face whenever someone brings up the year 2020.
The former Sabers quarterback won his first state championship as the head coach of his alma mater, beating the most storied football program in New Hampshire in doing so, and then followed that up by leading Team West to a victory in the CHaD All-Star game (ChaD game highlights and post-game interview)
That's a pretty good year.
"I was honored to coach the CHaD game, and there is nothing like winning a championship with your alma mater," said Bowkett.
"Last year's team was a pleasure to coach. Now we start the process of working new players into the lineup. We want to instill a championship culture with these players."
The message from Day 1, for a team that only returns two starters; the goal is to compete for titles every year, not every five. "We have talked about how much harder it is to stay on top than the climb to get there," said Bowkett.
"The kids have been receptive, and I don't sense any hangover from winning the title last season. That was last year; the kids have come in and worked hard this season to earn playing time."
Quarterback Austin Jain graduated and played in the ChaD game; he will be replaced by his younger brother freshman Romy Jain. "He's working hard and coming along. He has a lot to learn obviously, but we are pleased with his progress," said Bowkett.
Riley Carr will back up Jain and play in the slot at receiver in the Sabers spread offense. He will play alongside Steve Reynolds ("He's been very good in the pre-season."), Dylan Button (a contributor a year ago), Connor Cassidy, Cole Manning (younger brother of Luke), and tight end Charlie Maroun.
Bowkett feels like his group of running backs will be the team's strength as Mitch Hauser, a returning starter; JJ Bright and Tony Garrant are all expected to produce right away. "It's a very versatile group, and we like the depth we have overall."
Finley Raudelunas, Sam LeBlanc, and Sean Quinn will be part of a new-look offensive line which will include Jackson Hobbs & Xavier Vaudreuil. "There have been really good competition for starting jobs and a lot of players in the mix," said Bowkett.
Hauser is an all-state performer at linebacker and will be joined on defense by Button, Garrant, Brady Melvin, and Maddux McGrath.
"We're ready to compete now. We certainly have a strong group of underclassmen, but it would be unfair to our seniors to ever look ahead," said Bowkett. "We know how many good teams there are in our division and that we have a target on our back. We're excited to compete week to week."
The Bow Falcons have been as consistent as any football team in the state over the past ten years and should be in the playoff mix again in 2021.
Paul Cohen’s team will need a new look offensive line to come together behind a deep backfield and their starter from last season back at quarterback.
Alex Boisvert returns under center and will be joined by a backfield by committee that includes Ryan Lover and Myles Rheinhardt, who will split time at fullback.
At Tailback & Wingback the carries will be split between Chris Beddington, Logan Gordon, Owen Guertin & Owen Walton.
The offensive line is going to have a lot of new faces this year. The only returning starters are Tackle Teddy Pfiefle and Guards Hollis Jones & Nick Oulette.
Cole Robinson will move to TE this year and he will be joined on the line by Austin Bouch at Center, Eric Goodwin at Tackle and Ben Berube at TE. Sean Nicholls and Bradford Hall will also see time on offense.
Defensively the Falcons return Lover & Gordon in the defensive backfield.
At Linebacker Bow returns Hollis Jones, Myles Rhienhardt, Teddy Pfiefle & Cole Robinson on the defensive line.
They will be joined on defense by Nick Oullette LB, Owen Walton OLB, Austin Bouch DE, Eric Goodwin DT & Alex Boisvert CB.
Ownen Guertin, Bradford Hall, Ben Berube & Chris Beddington will also see time on defense for a team that we will see Friday in Hanover.
Two years removed from a Division II championship, the Hollis-Brookline Cavaliers are in rebuild mode.
A good nucleus of freshmen & sophomores has Chris Lones' team taking a step back before a program that advanced to the playoffs in five of six seasons is back among the elite in the division.
"Our numbers have been down a bit, which is a bit surprising coming off of a championship just two years ago," said head coach Chris Lones. "We have some good competition for spots and a group of underclassmen that we like a lot."
Riley McQuikin returns at quarterback and will be joined in the backfield by Elliot Troddyn, Adam York, and Ben St. John. "Elliott has the potential to have a very good season for us; he's just been slowed a little by injuries here in the pre-season," said Lones.
Wide receiver Isaiah Valez was a contributor on the 2019 championship team and should be a focal point of the Cavaliers' offense. He will be joined by tight end Braydon Laub, who has had a very good pre-season, and Colby McDormand.
A name to file away is freshman wide receiver/safety Jayce Cora, who will start right away, and Lones' expects to make an immediate impact. "He has huge potential. We are seeing things from him in practice that we do not see from freshmen," said Lones. "We are excited about watching him develop."
Grigory Dushkin will anchor the offensive line alongside Dylan Brown, Tommy Koch, John McCole, and newcomer Tucker Luter. "He's a good athlete and someone who will step in and play right away."
Many of the same players will lead the defense as jobs remain up for grabs for a team that returns only three starters from a year ago.
"We are going to take our lumps at times this year, but if we can improve by the week and gain experience, that puts us on the right track," said Lones.
When it comes to the Upper Valley, Hanover will be overshadowed by arch-rival and pre-season #1 Lebanon this season.
Talking to Head Coach Sam Cavallaro, you get the sense that’s just fine with him. “We had a very good off-season, and that’s carried over into the pre-season,” said Cavallaro.
“Who knows how we will end up this season, but we like the team we have and feel like we have a chance to be very competitive this season.”
Colin Pierce returns at quarterback for the Marauders and has improved after an off-season working under the tutelage of former UNH star quarterback Trevor Knight. “He put in a ton of work over the off-season, and the difference it has made is noticeable.”
Sophomore Roger Lucas also worked out with Knight and looks to be the future signal-caller for Cavallaro. His improvement means you may see Lucas at quarterback at times, with Pierce able to move over to another skill position. “We like the flexibility we have at the position. We want to get our best players out on the field,” said Cavallaro.
Seamus Murphy returns to lead what should be a very good backfield. He will be joined by Jeff Vidou & Matt Brock.
There will be depth at wide receiver where Brendan Logan, Declan Flynn, Teddy Sumner, and Lucas are all expected to contribute right away.
Hanover has been known for its skill position players in our 14 years of coverage, going back to quarterback Sam Carney, but in 2021 the strength of the team may be its offensive and defensive lines.
“That has been a very hard-working group, and they’ve really come together over the off-season,” said Cavallaro.
Montana Hanchett, Connor Chambers, Patrick Elder, Jack Crandell, and California transfer Cam Bonner make up what could be a much-improved unit in the trenches. They’ll be joined on the line by tight end Josh Bucci.
“We like the group we have, but depth is a concern,” said Cavallaro. “Like a lot of coaches will tell you, staying healthy is a key.”
The defense will be led by many of the same names as Brock, Murphy, Flynn, Vidou, and Bucci will make up a strong linebacking group while Murphy, Lucas, Logan, and Taj Bagnato will man the secondary.
“We hope to improve week to week, but I’m pleased with the effort these kids are giving in the pre-season,” said Cavallaro. “It’s been great to get to the field and work with this group every day, and we’re excited to get started on Friday night.”
It will be a season of growing pains for Hillsboro-Deering Hopkinton as Jay Wood’s team works in a young nucleus for what has become a very solid Division II program.
“We are very young, and that inexperience will hurt us early on,” said Wood. “ We have been coaching the kids up, and they have been responding well & working hard.”
Malcolm Klinger will take over as quarterback for the graduated Mike Oberheim and be backed up by WR/CB Connor Tewksbury.
“Malcolm is coming along well,” said Wood. “ Connor will be out on the field for us, and if we need him for a few plays, he can play the position.”
There is depth in the backfield and at the skill positions where Devin Barrett, Jack Morrall & Joe Yanzo will get the bulk of the carries at running back, and returning starter Cooper Coldwell looks ready for a breakout season at tight end.
“ A lot of the starters are getting their first opportunities, and they have worked hard for it,” said Wood. “ We have some good red-zone targets, in addition to Cooper, that we think can be effective.”
6’6 wide receiver (yes, 6 foot 6) Abram Standefer is a player you’re going to have to game plan for..and possibly defend with a ladder. “ No need to make it complicated, just throw it up and let him make a play,” joked Wood.
Three hundred lb. Jared O’Connor will anchor the offensive and defensive lines alongside Noah & Sean Carter, Robert Rinden, and Thaddeus Maughan.
Morrall, Yanzo, and Tewksbury will lead defensive coordinator Chase Phaneuf’s secondary.
“ We are not where we usually are at this time of year, as far as preparation,” said Wood. “ It’s coming together, though, and the focus is on getting better every week.”
East Conference Predicted Order
Kevin Fitzgerald’s Timberlane Owls have become accustomed to being put in tough spots.
Two years ago an already inexperienced roster was hit with a rash of injuries, forcing freshman into the starting lineup much earlier than the coaching staff wanted. “We had freshman starting on the line against Pinkerton & Londonderry,” says Fitzgerald looking back on a long 2019 season. “You can imagine how well that went.”
Last season the Owls nearly beat Plymouth on the road to open the season, something that happens up in Plymouth every five or six years, but then lost their starting quarterback Dominic Coppeta to a season-ending injury.
That forced their best receiver to move from the slot to behind center as Ethan Stewart replaced Coppeta.
One year after that injury and two years after getting pushed around as freshman, the Owls have multiple 3-year starters, experience at nearly every position, Coppeta & Stewart back at their natural positions and as much depth as any team in Division II.
All of that makes them a favorite to be playing well into November.
“We bring back a lot of experience but we still haven’t accomplished our goals as a team,” said Fitzgerald. “We are focusing on improving our preparation, things like watching film and scouting each opponent.”
“The kids know they have an opportunity for a good season but this is also a very tough division. You have a lot of very good coaches who will have their team prepared to knock us off.”
Coppeta is healthy and ready to go at quarterback. He will be joined in the backfield by returning starters Dominic Pallaria and Dan Post, who along with Ethan Stewart, were the team’s leading rushers a year ago.
Matt Williams and Jaden Mwangi will start at wide receiver and are joined on offense by four returning starters on the offensive line. Three of which are 3-year starters.
Kaeleb Moley, Malikai Colon, Cooper Kelly and Camden Zambrowicz all will start for the Owls again and there’s depth behind the starters.
“We feel good about that group and our skill players as well,” said Fitzpatrick. “When Dominic went down with an injury last season it threw off the balance of our offense because we had to pull Ethan out of the receiving group. You can see a good chemistry on the field with everyone back in their spot.”
There are three-year starters on defense as well and it is a unit that will be led by Cooper Kelly at linebacker, Evan Roeger at nose tackle, Niko Langlois at defensive tackle and Joe Shivell at outside linebacker.
“This is a hard working group and you can see how happy they are to know they have a season ahead of them,” said Fitzgerald.
“We are still finding our way in a new division but it didn’t take us very long to see how good the teams are. Our goal is to make the playoffs and be playing our best football at the end of the season.”
The Kennett Eagles have been a perennial playoff team under head coach Vaughn Beckwith and a year ago, they battled Plymouth on the road before falling 14-6 (Plymouth/Kennett highlights and post-game interview) in the quarterfinals.
The Eagles return enough talent to be amongst the best in the division once again. Their level of success will be about working in their new quarterback and developing their offensive and defensive lines.
“The focus has been on developing our offense around our quarterback and getting the line where it needs to be,” said Beckwith. “We have made progress through the pre-season, and I’m confident in the group of players we have.”
Camden Bailey takes over at quarterback for all-state performer Parker Coleman who graduated a year ago.
Bailey might be the feel-good story of the 2021 season. A cancer survivor, Bailey has a prosthetic on his left leg that can limit some of his mobility at times. “He is a courageous and smart kid; he’s played very well for us in the pre-season,” said Beckwith.
“He sees the field extremely well and makes quick decisions. We’ll run the pistol offense to take advantage of his strengths, which is his decision-making at the line, getting the ball out quickly, and making his throws.”
Bailey will be joined in a loaded backfield by the all-state duo of Tanner Bennett and Evan Koroski.
Bennett gives Kennett a James White-type from the running back spot while Koroski is a talented battering ram who looks poised for a breakout season on both sides of the ball.
“Our running backs are certainly a strength,” said Beckwith. “We are going to make sure they each get a lot of touches.”
Brady Robitaille is a talented tight end and will be joined on the line by 3-year starter Kyle Stearns, Sean Carrier, Cooper Santuccio, and Traevon Spurlock.
“It’s not an offensive line with a ton of size, but it’s a group that is athletic and fits what we are trying to do running the ball side to side,” said Beckwith.
Isaiah Mojica and Tyler Walcott will start at wide receiver. At the same time, the defense will be led by a lot of the same names and include Koroski, Bennett, and Santuccio at linebacker, 3-year starter TJ Holland at defensive tackle, and Sam Seavey at defensive end.
“We have a lot of players who have made contributions on the field for us. It’s about moving them around into the right positions,” said Beckwith. “They have come every day ready to work and are excited to face the defending champs (Souhegan) on opening night.”
They measure success in Plymouth by championships not by finals appearances and certainly not by playoff appearances.
Last November Chris Sanborn’s Bobcats battled Souhegan all the way to the final 3 minutes until a turnover essentially ended their comeback and ultimately their season.
Eight starters from that team graduated on both sides of the ball. So the question is; what are the expectations for a program that seems to meet or exceed them every season?
“You go down the list of the players we lost to graduation and that list includes a lot of all-state players,” said Sanborn. “We lost our running backs, top receiver and a three-year starter at quarterback. You don’t just snap your fingers and pick up where you left off.”
Kurtis Cross will step into the starting quarterback position after backing up Bannon last season while Parker Eastman ascends to the back-up role.
The Bobcats three leading rushers from a year have graduated but the backfield should be very good again with the return of Calvin Swanson and Joe Peters.
Each saw significant playing time last season and Peters emerged as a big play threat at the end of the season. “Joe made a couple of plays for us in the championship game against Souhegan,” said Sanborn. “We should be pretty effective running football.”
There is experience back on the offensive and defensive lines where all-state guard/defensive tackle Eddie Camp returns along with Tyler Stokowski Jeff Lyford and Caden Sanborn.
“We have had a couple key guys out in scrimmages so it’s given other players the opportunity for more snaps in practice,” said Sanborn. “Eddie is set to have a very good season for us.”
Camp will lead the defense as well and will be joined by Swanson at OLB/Safety, Sanborn, defensive end Jaivon Cadore and newcomers Matt Cleary, Anthony Ciotti and Dylan Welch.
“Our goal is to be a playoff team,” said Sanborn, and yes, he’s aware that sounds crazy coming from a Plymouth football coach.
“We are not anywhere near that level right now but the kids are working hard and we are coaching them up. The attitude of the team has been good; we just need to get better every day. That’s the focus right now.”
At this time a year ago, former Wells (ME) head coach Ed McDonough was just trying to remember the names of his players as he took over late in the pre-season at St. Thomas.
It was a great coaching hire for a very strong Saints program as McDonough came in after 13 years as head coach and four championship games appearances, including a 1997 title.
The task was a near-impossible one, though. As McDonough, a Wing-T coach in the tradition of a Bill Ball or Brian O’Reilly, kept the same spread offense the Saints had always run and spent the first weeks of the season figuring out if his linebackers name was Tom or Tim.
“I came in very late, so I didn’t want to disrupt what they had previously run,” said McDonough. “I tried to make it as smooth a transition for the kids as possible. They were already dealing with a lot.”
The team predictably struggled out of the gate, going 1-4, before pulling off a first-round 20-0 win over Pembroke Academy.
Covid issues shut the team down before a match-up with Timberlane, but it also began the first off-season of McDonough’s tenure.
“We have been able to implement our offense and 4-4 defense now, and the kids have adjusted well. These are really nice and very smart kids.”
The quarterback job is open after the graduation of Cam Paquette. A pair of sophomores have been competing for the job in the pre-season, with Michael Skowron and Derek Leedberg both expected to see time under center.
“We feel comfortable with either player at the position,” said McDonough.
Running back might be the strongest unit on the team as all-state performer Liam Sullivan returns along with Tyler Leedberg and Spencer Lassard. “We have a lot of depth at running backs, so you’re going to see different players throughout the game. We are happy with the potential of that group.”
Devon Paquette is a returning starter at wide receiver and will be joined by a pair of tight ends expected to step in and contribute right away; Connor Toriello & Tyler Butts.
The offensive line features three starters from a year ago. McDonough worries about depth after the starting five but should get good production from a group that includes center JJ Luchsinger, right tackle Joe Pickett, and left guard Billy Wood.
Aidan Gorman and Sam Grondin will lead the defense at linebacker and Spencer Lassard & Owen Birch in the secondary.
“ We have a difficult schedule right off the bat with Timberlane, so we will have to be ready to go,” said McDonough. “ The attitude of the kids has been terrific, so we’re excited to get going.”
Pembroke Academy head coach Will Moher understood the challenge he faced when he took over the football program.
The Spartans have a history of producing terrific athletes, but they usually showcase those skills on the basketball court or a soccer field.
After a 3-0 start a year ago, football might be gaining some traction at Pembroke. “We had some players come out for the team this year that hadn’t tried out before,” said Moher, who begins his 4th season as head coach. “That comes from kids who want to be part of the culture we are creating here.”
Junior Logan Sarrasin takes over at quarterback and has impressed his head coach with his attention to detail. “I work in the school, so we have been able to watch a lot of film together,” said Moher.
“He’s put the work in. Our offense requires a lot of reads at the line, so we’re not going to put a player out there unless we are comfortable with his ability to see what the other team is doing. He has a good poise to him and has come along nicely in the pre-season.”
Alex Francouer will need a separate paragraph when he types out his football positions. The former tackle and defensive end is now the go-to running back and a 4-year starter Moher knows he can rely on.
Co-captain Jovani Bova will lead the wide receivers along with Stephen Cox and Joe Fitzgerald. “We are comfortable with the group we have at both the skill positions and on the line,” said Moher. “We just need game reps and to develop depth.”
Cody Leclair is set for an all-state season on the offensive line (“He’s come so far in four years, just a terrific competitor,” said Moher) along with Aidan Weldon, who will also be an anchor on the defensive line.
“We saw a big improvement from our first scrimmage to our second. We hope to stay on that trajectory as this group continues to grow,” said Moher.
“I like the direction of this program. This will be my fourth year, and I’ve also come a long way from that first season. We are working together, and we’ll work to bring this program to the level where we are competing for the playoffs every year.”
The graduation of the largest senior class in program history has Gilford-Belmont rebuilding, but head coach Josh Marzahl likes the program's direction.
"They have been a fun group to coach here in the pre-season," said Marzahl. "There are a lot of jobs to be won, and that has made for some competitive practices as the coaches evaluate each position."
Quarterbacks Jack McLean and Alex Cheek, who both played in the ChaD All-Star game, have graduated, and last season's back-up Jalen Reese is out for the season recovering from a foot injury.
That leaves the next Reese up as sophomore Isaiah, one of the team's starting receivers a year ago, is the new starter behind center. "He's growing into the position, and that will take time," said Marzahl. "What you see right away, though, is his ability to make plays. His creativity is a tremendous asset."
Austin Normandin may be the breakout player in the Eagles offense. "He's been really impressive, and the work he has put in looks ready to pay off," said Marzahl. "He and Isaiah give us a very good 1-2 punch in the backfield."
Luke Loyer will contribute right away in the backfield while the receivers will be led by Riley Marsh, who, at 6'2, gives Reese a big red zone target, and Logan Grant, who might be the team's most improved player. "Logan is a great kid, and he has really put in the work over the off-season," said Marzahl. "We are excited to see what he can do."
Michael Kitto plays both fullback & tight end and will be joined on the line by 3-year starter Stratford Kenny and promising sophomore Michael Macaione. "We are working hard to develop a good groove as a unit."
Kitto will lead the linebacking group along with Luke Jackson, while Marsh, Reese, and Grant will lead the Gilford-Belmont secondary. "For us, it's about getting better every week, gaining experience, and being competitive week to week," said Marzahl.
"I am looking forward to seeing this group develop together."
Coming tomorrow: Division III