Last fall’s run to the Class C North football championship set off a tidal wave of schoolboy athletic success at Mount Desert Island High School in Bar Harbor.
In the months that followed the school’s first regional championship in football, state titles in boys basketball and indoor track and field were annexed, followed by a state runner-up finish in outdoor track and field.
If coach Mark Shields’ Trojans are going to replicate that success, they’ll have to survive what will be a rugged voyage in a new-look Class C North that features some tough competitors.
“Our goal has been for a long time now to get ourselves into the playoffs, then basically a new season begins once you get there,” said Shields. “It’s an eight-game schedule, so it goes pretty quickly. You drop a couple games early, it’s going to be hard to get in.”
The Class C North includes perennial contenders Winslow and MDI, who encounter another contender in conference newcomer Maine Central Institute of Pittsfield, which won the Class D state championship in dramatic fashion last season.
While the MCI Huskies coach Tom Bertrand is excited for the new challenge, he doesn’t quite know what to expect just yet.
“MDI’s the defending champion. Winslow’s always going to be competitive,” Bertrand said. “Those two teams come right to mind.”
The Black Raiders and Trojans have combined to play in the last five Class C state championship games.
But MCI isn’t without championship experience of its own, having won three consecutive Class D regional titles before making its leap to Class C this fall.
“We know that regardless of what class we’re in, we’re going to have to commit to the levels of success we got to [in the past],” Bertrand said. “We’re going to have to work harder than ever.”
MCI has the challenging task of replacing talented quarterback Josh Buker, but the Huskies feature a talented blend of returning skill players in tailback-receiver Adam Bertrand, the coach’s son, wide receivers David Young and Anthony Moss, and tailback Pedro Marcos.
The quarterback who will get the ball to those players remains to be seen, and Bertrand expected that to be one of the biggest battles of training camp.
“We’ve got some different kids that are vying for it,” he said. “We’ve got confidence in them.”
MCI, which had 45 players when practice started Aug. 14, also has experience returning along the offensive and defensive lines in Seth Bussell, Aaron Schenck, D.J. Plummer and T.J. Kuespert.
If there’s one thing Bertrand is happy with, it’s that his players did not rest on their state-championship laurels and put in the offseason work in the weight room.
“We had a summer unlike any other summer we’ve had in terms of training,” Bertrand said. “We have a great strength and conditioning coach, Woody Moore. Physically this was the toughest summer that we’ve had since he’s been here and that’s been intentional. We’ve had great participation in our summer program the last two years.”
On the midcoast, Medomak Valley of Waldoboro also is moving up to Class C from Class D this fall, and is postseason-eligible for the first time in the program’s young history.
“The kids have been taking a hold to that,” said Medomak Valley coach Ryan Snell. “They had a great offseason and we’re ready to roll this fall.”
Despite graduating 18 seniors, the Panthers will feature a young, talented team that Snell hopes can make a postseason push.
The nucleus includes sophomore quarterback Darius Pierpont, running backs Tyler Simmons and Eli Miller, and fullback-linebacker Korbin Daniels. Snell said Josh Goldrup, Ethan Spear and Gabe Allaire are multi-sport athletes who can play just about anywhere.
While Medomak’s leap to Class C will give the Panthers a chance to test the waters against established midcoast programs such as Belfast and Oceanside of Rockland/Thomaston, Snell has much bigger aspirations.
“Certainly the main goal this year is to get to the playoffs,” he said. “This is what the community has been working towards and what the kids have been working towards.”
While defending regional champ MDI graduated 10 seniors, Shields won’t have to replace a lot of that talent offensively.
Senior quarterback Andrew Phelps returns to lead MDI’s disciplined wing-T offense, while classmates Colby Lee and Croix Albee return at tailback and fullback, respectively.
“Other halfback positions, we’ll be working a few kids in there to see what happens,” Shields said.
MDI also features veteran offensive and defensive lines led by returnees Jacob Ritterer, Josiah Joy, Gilbert Isaacs and Micah Hallett. Shields may also work Hallett in at linebacker where, along with the secondary, the Trojans were hit hardest by graduation.
“We’ve got some big shoes to fill back there,” Shields said. “We’re just trying to figure out who we think might have a shot and start.”
Shields feels that Winslow, whom his Trojans will face on the road in their mutual opener, should be considered the favorites.
“They just know how to win championships,” Shields said. “We were fortunate enough to beat them last year in the Northern Maine championship but we’ve got to go right down there Week 1, and they’ve had all year to think about that.”
Old Town, which hosted the 2015 regional final and returned to the postseason last fall, has been a consistent contender under head coach Lance Cowan.
The Coyotes have experience at the skill positions with the return of senior quarterback Hunter Brassett and sophomores Ethan Hayes at tailback and Travis Spell at wide receiver.
Old Town also has several veterans up front with two-way linemen Jacob St. Louis, Jarred Spencer, Eric Lyford and Brandon Morin all returning.
“They know what needs to be done and what it takes to be successful,” said Cowan, who pointed at MDI as the team to beat.
“You’ve got to give them the respect, coming out of it they don’t lose much,” Cowan said. “Shields does a great job with those guys. He’ll have them ready to play.”
Another Class C newcomer who could surprise is Nokomis of Newport.
The Warriors, who struggled to an 0-8 campaign in Class B last fall, feature a new head coach in former Lawrence assistant Jake Rogers.
Nokomis has endured back-to-back winless seasons.
Hermon, which won its first two games last fall before finishing 2-6, also has a new head coach in 27-year-old Kyle Gallant.
Gallant coached the town’s junior high program to an undefeated campaign last fall, and Shields and Cowan both believe the Hawks could be a surprise this season.
“They’re going to win some football games,” said Cowan, whose Coyotes open with Hermon.
Belfast and Oceanside are looking to build on playoff appearances last season, with Oceanside losing a tight contest at MDI in the semifinals.
John Bapst and Waterville seek to rebound after finishing 1-7 and 0-8, respectively, last fall.