Where are the running backs?

Take a look at the Portland Press Herald’s football players to watch and you might ask the same question. Only three of the 12 are expected to line up at running back this season and all three – Nick Archambault of Portland, Jesse Devereaux of Brunswick and Patrick Saunders of Kennebunk – are better known for their play as linebackers.

This season there will be plenty of new faces carrying the ball for the top teams in southern Maine. Several were waiting behind well-known graduates, while others will move from complementary to featured roles.

And as usual, there will be someone who excels beyond expectations.

Remember last season? Joe Esposito started the season as Portland’s fullback and lead blocker for George Chaisson-Lapine. It wasn’t until Chaisson-Lapine was injured midway through the fifth game that Esposito became the feature back. Esposito finished with 1,606 rushing yards and won the Fitzpatrick Trophy.

Now it’s Archambault’s turn in the running spotlight for the Bulldogs. Sort of. He’ll share carries with Jake Knop and defensive back/kick returner Dylan Bolduc.

It’s much the same for Devereaux and Marshwood junior Kyle Glidden. Both have the trust of their head coach to step into positions that have proved highly productive.

Devereaux had a cameo in Brunswick’s 21-14 Class B championship game loss to Marshwood. Filling in for the injured Will Bessey (1,569 yards as a senior), Devereaux gained 128 yards on 18 carries with a touchdown. He also had an 84-yard burst for a score in the North final against Brewer.

“He’s a good fullback. He will be the primary ball carrier,” Brunswick Coach Dan Cooper said.

Glidden has equally big shoes to fill.

Two years ago, Brett Gerry, the eventual Fitzpatrick Trophy winner, rushed for 2,263 yards for the Hawks. Gerry’s presence kept Zach Doyon in the shadows. Doyon got his chance last season and rushed for 1,895 yards.

“We’re hoping that with Glidden the same thing happens for him,” said Marshwood Coach Alex Rotsko. “Last year he was our third option. Plus, between a player’s sophomore and junior season is where you usually see the most improvement.”

Of the returning backs, Nick Thorne of Bonny Eagle, a junior, stands out as the person most likely to rack up big numbers. Scots Coach Kevin Cooper said the 5-foot-9, 220-pound Thorne “is pretty dynamic and very strong.” Thorne was a two-way starter as a sophomore.

“He’s going to be really good,” said Thornton Coach Kevin Kezal of Thorne.

Here are some other backs who could be breakout stars:

 Kyle Houser of Windham rushed for 518 yards in the regular season despite playing through injuries.

 Rylan Benedict of Cheverus runs angry, fighting for every yard. With the out-of-state transfer of Tre Fletcher, who led the Stags in rushing as a freshman in 2015, Benedict will be the first option.

 Brady Crepeau of Biddeford has had hockey and baseball success but missed the last two football seasons because of injuries. Crepeau’s coach, Brian Curit, says if healthy Crepeau can be a difference maker as a power fullback.

 Spencer Houlette of South Portland started at tailback as a sophomore, has speed, and can also catch passes out of the backfield.

Meice Loureiro of Westbrook was “under the radar a little bit” as a junior, said Blue Blazes Coach Jeff Guerette, but he still produced more than 1,000 all-purpose yards.

 Evan Whitten and/or Riley Dempsey of Wells, which is expected to be a Class C power. As Coach Tim Roche said, “everybody knows we run first, run second, run third.” Whitten and Dempsey will get plenty of carries.

 And while he’s now a quarterback, expect Michael Laverriere (6-foot-1, 220 pounds) of Thornton Academy to rack up some good rushing numbers. He’s been a three-year factor for Thornton and has 27 career rushing touchdowns.

“Obviously every year you play to your strengths and he’s the only returner we have at the skill positions,” Kezal said.

BIDDEFORD, IN ITS second year in Class B, is projected by many coaches as a contender this fall.

“I think we have a shot to be very, very competitive,” Curit said.

But last year’s playoff drubbing at the hands of Westbrook leaves some lingering doubts. The Tigers can add credence to the contender claim Friday night at Waterhouse Field if they can beat two-time Class B champion Marshwood.

Class B South is expected to be very balanced. The top teams from a year ago – Marshwood, Falmouth and Leavitt – were hit hardest by graduation. Middle-of-the-pack squads like Biddeford and Kennebunk have the most returning players.

Many expect York, which stumbled to a 2-6 record in 2015, to be better.

“Our league was really senior-laden last year. It will be fun,” Curit said.