There have been plenty of changes since 11-man football was last played in Maine in 2019. And without a 2020 season, coaches across the state agree that predicting how other teams will fare, or knowing who their best players are, is a hard task. With that said, guess what? The power dynamic hasn’t changed much.

CLASS A

When you’re talking powerful programs, Thornton Academy and Bonny Eagle are always included. Both have strong senior classes to lead them this season.

Thornton has 24 seniors, including dual-threat quarterback Jack Emerson, who would have started in 2020 as a junior, according to Coach Kevin Kezal. The Trojans aren’t quite as big up frontas some years, but they’re perhaps more athletic, led by the likes of two-way tackle Seth Beyea and tackle/defensive end Grady Hanscom. Cody Ruff is a 6-foot-5 tight end/outside linebacker who can run, and junior Isaiah Jones, a starting defensive back as a freshman, will get the ball as a runner, receiver and returner. Kezal said his defense has smart kids “at every level who can run and will play hard.”

Thornton Academy quarterback Jack Emerson throws a pass against Biddeford in a preseason scrimmage at Waterhouse Field on Friday. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Bonny Eagle will go with sophomore Terrell Edwards at quarterback. Coach Kevin Cooper predicts he will become “a special player for us.” Edwards will be surrounded by seniors, including all his linemen – led by returning right guard Thomas Horton – 6-1, 220-pound running back Zac Oya, and top downfield target Aidan Walcott, the Class A state-meet record holder in the 100- and 200-meter dashes. Nick Klein, another senior, is a standout linebacker who can be a punishing lead blocker on offense.

Scarborough has deserved to be grouped with Thornton and Bonny Eagle as part of “The Big Three” since the Red Storm knocked off Thornton in the 2016 playoffs. This season, look for Oxford Hills to make it a Big Four in the eight-team Class A division.

Oxford Hills Coach Mark Soehren has strong junior and senior classes this fall. “We’re really looking to take that next step to compete.,” he says. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

The Vikings have strong senior and junior classes, according to Coach Mark Soehren, giving them “a lot of depth and a lot of size and a lot of speed. We’re really looking to take that next step to compete.” Isaiah Oufiero is a standout tight end/outside linebacker. He and senior wide receiver/cornerback Dakota Grassi and junior Elias Soehren are returning starters. Soehren, who started as a free safety as a freshman, takes the reins as quarterback. Wyatt Knightly, who made starts at quarterback as a sophomore, shifts to running back.

Packy Malia, a longtime assistant and coordinator at both Portland and Scarborough, took over as the Red Storm’s coach prior to the 2020 season being scuttled. Jayden Flaker, a 6-4, 215-pound wide receiver/free safety with superior speed, will be a tough cover for any team, and senior quarterback Sam Rumelhart, a good runner, throws a nice deep ball. Ryan Kelly will be another good target. Running back/middle linebacker Andy Lancaster and two-way lineman and captain Brady Reed are a pair of physical seniors.

Bangor has been improving under Coach David Morris and has several returning starters, including quarterback Max Clark and tailback Joey Morrison (730 rushing yards).

Sanford, which like Bangor was 4-5 in the 2019 regular season, should be able to offer quarterback Jake Beninati solid support from senior running back Ryan Robichaud and an improved line, featuring Jack Callis and Pahtra Mar, two guards who also play inside linebacker.

Lewiston quarterback Kameron Caron is a strong runner out of the spread offense. Junior tailbacks Eli Bigelow and Farid Muhamed Aceto both have size and speed. Two-way tackle Jacob Dubois leads the linemen.

Edward Little, winless in 2019, will look to quarterback Jack Keefe to lead a team that returns eight other players with significant varsity experience.

CLASS B NORTH

As recently as 2017, Windham was in the Class A championship game. Now in its second season in B North, the Eagles have “some great building blocks,” to make another title run, said Coach Matt Perkins.

“We like what we have for sure. … and these kids are so coachable. If you have coachable kids, you always feel the sky’s the limit,” Perkins added.

Senior quarterback Will Ledbetter has protection from a big line, including 6-5, 330-pound Dylan Matheson and three big playmaking tight end/H-backs in Nick Garrison, Jason Scott and Colby Mizner.

Traditional B North standouts Brunswick, Skowhegan and Lawrence also have championship aspirations.

Skowhegan played many underclassmen in 2019, and now the River Hawks have experience at a number of positions. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

Brunswick’s overall numbers are down (41 players), but Coach Dan Cooper has 16 seniors who have played together for years, including his sons, quarterback/defensive back Weston Cooper and running back/linebacker Dalton Cooper. The latter will miss the first two games while attending U.S. Army basic training. Declan Lay is a tight end/defensive end who can impact the game on both sides of the ball, Colby Nadeau is a superior center, and Oliver Hamilton is a top guard/linebacker.

Skowhegan played many underclassmen in 2019, and now the River Hawks have experience at a number of positions. Junior Joe Linkletter was an all-conference linebacker as a freshman. Junior Adam Savage, a starter in the secondary as a freshman in 2019, takes over at quarterback.

Lawrence played in three consecutive conference championship games from 2017 to 2019. The Bulldogs are led by twins Andrew Trombley (quarterback/free safety) and Matthew Trombley (fullback/linebacker).

Falmouth/Greely could be the sleeper in the division. Cooper Bush is a strong-armed 6-2, 195-pound quarterback who also plays linebacker. Teddy Hanley is a speedy, elusive back, and 6-1, 225-pound sophomore guard/tight end/linebacker Brayden Van Pembrook is one of the hardest hitters on the team.

CLASS B SOUTH

Marshwood has ruled this roost since the arrival of Coach Alex Rotsko, winning six regional and five state titles in the last eight seasons, with Kennebunk winning the other two South crowns. With Marshwood light in both total participation (45 players) and linemen, this could be another year for Kennebunk to excel.

Kennebunk Coach Joe Rafferty thinks highly of senior quarterback Keegan Andrews. Rafferty has one of the state’s top returning running backs in fullback David York and a defensive line that could be scary good, with ends Jack Kudas and Jacob Morris and twin brother tackles Liam and Lucian Breault.

Kennebunk quarterback Keegan Andrews (in front with red shirt) leads his team in warmups before football practice on Wednesday. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Marshwood has top-end skill players, led by senior quarterback Aidan Sullivan, a starter on defense as a sophomore, and returning two-way starter Cam Cornett, who is a running back and cornerback (six rushing, five receiving TDs as a sophomore). Brothers Kevin and Ty Cougler and Andrew Goodwin are also good running backs.

“We’re pretty strong at the skill positions. Up front, it’s a whole different story,” Rotsko said.

In 2019, South Portland and Massabesic both went 6-2 in their first season in Class B.

For the Red Riots, senior wide receiver Ryan Thurber is expected to be a playmaker. Jack Cole (offensive lineman/linebacker) is a returning starter. Senior Nate Rende and junior Jalen Jackson will probably platoon at quarterback.

Former assistant and 2002 Massabesic graduate Lucas Labbe took over as the Mustangs’ head coach in June. Quarterback Colin Scully and fullback Austin Scribner will key a triple-option running attack. Senior middle linebacker Sean Wakefield, a varsity player since his freshman year, leads the defense.

Portland has returning starters at 13 of the 22 positions, including senior quarterback Grant Crosby. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Portland, Gorham and Noble all have large senior groups. Portland and Noble were both 1-7 in 2019.

Gorham has 16 seniors under first-year head coach Sam Morrison, who was an assistant with the program the previous five years. Running back/linebacker Kyle Skolfield is an every-down player, and the senior class includes quarterback Landon Bickford, defensive backs Elijiah Wyatt and Charlie Gay, and linemen Sean McKeage and Aidan Farley.

Portland has returning starters at 13 of the 22 positions, including senior quarterback Grant Crosby and the wide receiver/defensive back combo of Aidan DiMillo and Nathan Isajar. The Bulldogs’ 52-player roster has been bolstered by several transfers from Deering, including dynamic running back Brandon Boyle.

Noble has 17 seniors, and third-year coach Keenon Blindow praised his 60-player team’s commitment to the summer workout schedule. Seniors H-back/outside linebacker Caden Barish, running back/free safety Anthony Prak, and quarterback Dylan Mulligan are top offensive threats.

Both Biddeford and Deering have little varsity experience and are adapting to new coaches. The Tigers are still learning a new hurry-up, spread offense installed by Coach Steve Allosso, who replaced retired Brian Curit prior to the pandemic shutdown. Look for running back Ivan Ramos and receivers Colin Gregoire and Bryson Wolfahrt to be top threats. Deering Coach John Hardy is encouraged by the athleticism of his 48-man roster, 10 of whom joined the team in the past week. Senior captain Charlie Benider and 6-3 junior Remijo Wani are talented receivers who will play both ways, with Benider in the secondary and Wani an outside backer.

CLASS C NORTH

This region saw some changes, with Mt. Desert Island and Waterville leaving the league for eight-man football and Hampden Academy joining from Class B, but the favorites are the same as 2019: Maine Central Institute, Winslow and Hermon.

MCI lost many of the players who helped the Huskies win the regional title in 2019, but still has a talented though inexperienced group. Senior Bryce Bussell has been a starter on the offensive and defensive lines since his freshman season.

“We have a solid group of skill players and linemen, but many have little or no varsity experience,” said MCI Coach Tom Bertrand.

The Winslow High backfield works on a drill during a practice on Aug. 18. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

Winslow has a trio of running backs – Tyler Brockway, Jack Dorval and fullback Evan Bourget – who got varsity experience as sophomores two years ago.

Hermon Coach Kyle Gallant likes his team’s size and speed. Junior running back Gary Glidden saw some varsity time as a freshman in 2019 and is ready to carry the load for the Hawks.

CLASS C SOUTH

This seven-team region figures to be highly competitive, with 2019 state champion Leavitt again tabbed as the favorite by opposing coaches. The Hornets return three starting offensive linemen – tackles Jack Boutaugh and Trevor Poirier and center Reeve Twitchell – to protect new QB Hunter Hayes.

“I think our combination of speed and physicality on both sides of the ball will be a definite strength. Like everyone after a year off, we have some work to do on getting our techniques and schemes down, so we are spending a lot of time there,” said Coach Mike Hathaway.

Leavitt High won the Class C state title in 2019, and opposing coaches view the Hornets as the team to beat in C South this fall. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

Cape Elizabeth, Wells and York are contenders, while Fryeburg Academy and Gardiner are viewed as solid programs that will compete each week.

“I don’t think there are any games in C South that aren’t going to be tough, competitive games, especially where we’re all in same boat with missing a season,” said York Coach Matt Nelson.

Cape’s high-powered offense is directed by senior quarterback Caden McDuffie, a strong runner and good passer with a deep understanding of the offense. Running back Colin Campbell (5-10, 205) has good vision and agility. Versatile junior Nick Laughlin tops a deep group of receivers. Senior tackles and captains Colin Smith and Gabe Harrison anchor the offensive line.

After winning three state titles from 2016-18, the final two in Class D, Wells went 7-3 and lost to York in the regional semifinals in its return to Class C. Veteran Coach Tim Roche has one returning starter: senior quarterback Brady Fox, who has improved so much that the Warriors, who usually really heavily on their ground game out of the wing-T, might even “throw more than five times a game, which will be a shock to everyone,” Roche said. Senior running back Colby Bolduc, senior wide reciever Brayden Fazzina, sophomore running back Connor Whitten and junior fullback/kicker Mike Lewinski lead a large group of playmakers.

“I don’t know how good we’ll be, but we have a lot of kids who can do different things,” Roche said.

York likely would have been the favorite in 2020 had a tackle season been played. The Wildcats still boast a potentially dominating defensive front, led by junior nose guard Matt Charpentier (Class B discus champ as a sophomore), senior returning starter Will Orso at tackle and senior Hayden Henricksen rushing off the edge. Liam Clayton, a returning starter at inside linebacker, is getting looks from Division III college programs.

Fryeburg, which won the C South title in 2018, is known as a tough defensive team under Coach David Turner. Senior Bobby Hallam (tight end/outside linebacker) and his junior brother, Will (offensive and defensive line), are powerful players. But overall, the 33-player team is very raw, with several players who have never played football.

Gardiner High Coach Pat Munzing talks to players about blocking positions during practice on Thursday. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Gardiner Coach Pat Munzing expects defense to be a strength of his team, and the Tigers will continue to play their aggressive attacking style. Defensive backs Cole Brann, Wyatt Chadwick and Ryan Banister and linebacker Colton Dube are Gardiner’s top players.

Westbrook, coming off an 0-8 season in Class B South, has returning starters in junior dual-threat quarterback Carter Dowd and senior running back Caleb Tolman, who was a captain as a sophomore.

CLASS D

No 11-man football class was affected by the mass migration to eight man more than Class D. Like Class A, Class D is now a statewide division. Nine teams make up the new Class D alignment, but expect the usual contenders to remain in the mix for the state title.

Lisbon/St. Dom’s won the state championship in 2019. Coach Chris Kates has a young team, with just three seniors. Running back/linebacker Nick Blair and two-way lineman Chance Versey, both seniors, and junior lineman Ethan Berube will lead the Greyhounds.

Lisbon/St. Dom’s Coach Chris Kates has a young squad, with just three seniors this fall. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

“I like the new alignment because we’ll get to play some new teams, but I do hope some of the teams that switched to eight man can improve their numbers and make their way back to Class D in the near future,” Kates said.

Bucksport, which lost the Class D state championship game to Lisbon, returns the makings of a tough backfield in running backs Ty Giberson, Jaxon Gross and Josh Miller, who combined the rush for 1,873 yards and 27 touchdowns in 2019.

Foxcroft Academy returns quarterback Austin Seavey, who threw for 976 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2019. Caden Crocker is a versatile threat, and Anthony Smith will lead the offensive line.

“We will strive for balanced contributions in both the run and pass game,” said Foxcroft Coach Danny White. “Defensively, we are young and fairly inexperienced at the varsity level.”

Winthrop/Monmouth/Hall-Dale was consistently in the mix for the Class D South title, and the Ramblers should contend in this statewide division. Guard/defensive tackle Jake Umberhind was an all-conference player as a sophomore, and Coach Dave St. Hilaire thinks he could be among the top linemen in the state. Running back/linebacker Logan Baird ran for 487 yards and five touchdowns in 2019 for the Ramblers.

“We have many weapons on offense and are deep with speed, power runners and receivers,” St. Hilaire said.

Freeport, John Bapst and Poland each petitioned to play in Class D despite having Class C-sized enrollments. Two years ago, Freeport advanced to the Class C South semifinals in a 7-2 season, but the Falcons return only two starters from that team, twin brothers Tony and Danny Casale. They also have a lack of linemen on their 30-man roster. Tony Casale is an inside running threat and can play slot receiver as well.

Long-time high school principal Gus LeBlanc, who coached Dexter to a pair of state championships in the 1980s, took over as Poland’s coach prior to the 2020 7-on-7 season. The Knights’ linemen are inexperienced, but good team speed on the 35-man roster should result in a ball-hawking defense.

Staff writer Travis Lazaczyk contributed to this report.

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