Nic Visser of Husson University leaves a UMass Dartmouth defender in his wake during a football game in November 2021. Credit: Courtesy of Eric Ogden

It is understandable to see why the Husson University football team in Bangor was picked to finish fourth among seven teams in the Commonwealth Coast Conference’s preseason coaches poll.

The team lost its top two rushers, three of its four leading receivers and four of its top six tacklers.

But fourth-year head coach Nat Clark disagrees.

“We should be competing for the championship,” Clark said. “We obviously have to do a better job taking care of the football and we have to convert more in the red zone.”

Husson, 7-3 overall a year ago and 4-2 in the CCC, will open at UMass Dartmouth on Saturday at noon. They will play their home opener against Plymouth State on Sept. 10 at noon.

The Eagles are looking for their first postseason appearance since 2018, which was their fifth consecutive campaign earning a postseason berth. Four were to the NCAA Division III playoffs and one was to the ECAC Clayton Chapman Bowl game (2015).

Husson averaged nearly two turnovers per game, with 19 in 10 games a year ago (13 interceptions, 6 fumbles lost). The Eagles had 38 trips into the red zone and converted 23 into touchdowns.

Eight All-CCC selections have since departed but they did return four all-conference players, two on each side of the ball.

Junior quarterback Nic Visser was a first team All-CCC choice as he completed 58 percent of his passes for 2,598 yards and 19 touchdowns. Junior linebacker Tucker Buzzell from Lovell was also a first-teamer after leading the team with 85 tackles. He also had two interceptions.

Sophomore cornerback Antwan Turner was a second-team pick after being involved in 47 tackles and posting a team-high eight pass breakups, and senior wide receiver Jon Bell from Skowhegan was also a second teamer after catching 49 passes for 753 yards and four touchdowns.

On the offensive side of the ball, the All-CCC departures include leading rusher Garrett Poussard (177 carries, 726 yards), top receiver Tyler Halls (58 catches-957 yards), tight end and No. 3 receiver Aidan Hogan (45-432) and linemen Juwan Moore and Jake Cameron.

Poussard suffered a knee injury during spring football.

The league’s Defensive Lineman of the Year Frank Curran (61 tackles, team-leading 4.5 sacks) is one of three All-CCC defensive departures, along with linebacker Kaleb Caron (80 tackles) and nose guard David Redmond (41 tackles).

Buzzell and Turner headline the list of five returnees on defense. The others are junior linebacker Evan Briggs (34 tackles) from York, junior safety Josh Ladipo (28 tackles), and junior cornerback Alex Brown (24 tackles) from Lincoln. Junior Parker LaFrance (8 tackles) from West Paris will start at safety.

Gardiner junior Garrett Maheux and sophomore Anthony Harris will be in the mix in the secondary, also.

The linebackers will be Briggs, Buzzell and junior Adam Bertrand (9 tackles) from Pittsfield, with converted wide receiver Phoebus Floyd and Berwick sophomore C.J. Nicely supplying depth.

Husson lost three defensive line starters in Curran, Redmond and Josh Hoy (33 tackles), and they will be replaced by juniors Brandon Young (7 tackles) and Tyrek Mann (4 tackles) and sophomore Promise Nkowcha.

The offensive line has just one returning starter in sophomore right guard Aidan Crone. He will be joined on the offensive line by Houlton junior Damon Reynolds, freshman Hayden Fielder, and sophomores John Dugan of Buxton and Ethan Hicks.

Sophomore Will Horton from Standish has been lost for the season with a knee injury.

Cristian Walker, a senior, will be the tight end.

Joining Bell in the wide receiver corps will be Portland’s Wenston Dinizio (9 catches-65 yards), along with senior Tyler Thompson (4 catches-62 yards), sophomores Russ Walker, Cam Holmes, Evan Williams (3 catches-34 yards) and Pittsfield’s Dom Wilson.

Senior Jordan Marcano, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in the opener against UMass-Dartmouth last year after gaining 54 yards on 11 carries, is healthy and will be one of the primary running backs along with sophomore Elijah Garnett (27 carries, 79 yards).

Marcano has carried the ball 31 times for 188 yards during his Husson career.

“We will try to be balanced on offense,” Clark said. “We will obviously be relying on Nic [Visser] in the passing game. We have some really talented receivers but a lot of them haven’t played much yet.”

He also feels the running game will be solid.

Husson averaged 403.8 yards per game a year ago (262.3 passing, 141.5 rushing).

Clark, a longtime Husson assistant before becoming the head coach, said the kicking game has never been better at Husson.

Clark said senior Aaron Paradis from Minot, who kicked four of five goals and converted 27 of 29 extra points last fall, has improved noticeably as a punter as well as a placekicker. He will be challenged by Defiance College transfer Cason Markevich from Alton and freshman Garrett Martin.