CASTINE – The Maine Maritime Academy football team walked off the artificial turf at Ritchie Field last November as the most successful squad in school history.
The Mariners had captured the ECAC Division III Northeast Championship with a 28-20 victory over SUNY-Brockport. Yet, something was still missing – a berth in the NCAA playoffs. The Mariners set their sights on achieving that goal in 1994.
With MMA expected to lose only four starters, and in spite of the departure of head coach John Huard, Street and Smith magazine ranked Maine Maritime as the No. 20 Division III team in the nation in its preseason poll.
However, MMA also has some key personnel missing as it preps for the New England Football Conference season. In addition to seven seniors, the Mariners have lost starters Shane Wilcher (DT), Jon Jamo (LB), Allan Fortin (OT), and Brad Vigue (FB).
Of the 56 players on the ’93 roster, 21 are gone. This year’s preseason roster lists 52 men, including 20 freshmen among 25 first-year players.
Rookie head coach Mike Hodgson has a solid core of veterans, but faces a tough challenge to take the Mariners all the way to their goal of the NCAA playoffs.
“We’ve got some key people coming back, but we’ve sure got some big holes to fill, too,” Hodgson said. “Depth is always a problem.”
Junior linebacker Jeff Houghton of Bangor, the Mariners’ leading tackler in ’93, said MMA still has enough talent to achieve its goals.
“I think we have a real good shot,” Houghton said. “We lost a lot of players, but I think we’ve got a good corps back.”
Hodgson said there will be a transition period for all involved, but knows the MMA players will handle it well.
“The one thing these guys won’t do is quit on you,” Hodgson said. “If there’s one second left on the clock, that’s all we need to win or put the game away. These guys don’t know what it’s like to take a deep breath.”
Inspirational tailback Kirk Matthieu, plagued by injuries last season, is gone. But his able successor, junior tailback Rob Marchitello, who rushed for 1,619 yards and 17 touchdowns en route to All-NEFC first-team honors a year ago, is back.
Hodgson plans to feature Marchitello in an I-multiple offensive scheme that will include plenty of play-action. Junior Shawn Snedden of Litchfield returns at quarterback. His main targets are junior tight end Brian Johnson and sophomore TE Doug Peters of North Vassalboro.
The lone wide receiver back is sophomore Craig Pendergrass of Biddeford, but Peters is quick enough to move outside, while Mike Geyer and Joseph Doku are promising freshmen.
In the trenches, senior guard Dennis Damon of Livermore Falls, junior guard Erik Cote of Saco, and sophomore center Tim Clark of Bangor are the proven commodities. MMA needs to plug in a couple of tackles to replace departed starters Jim DiMillo and Al Fortin if it is to replicate last season’s 318 net yards and 23.8 points per game.
“We lost a couple of key guys and we’ll have to slide a few guys around,” Hodgson said. “Basically, we’ve got to replace a couple of tackles.”
Hodgson said the Mariners’ defensive philosophy will be more conservative than the recent attack-style MMA units. There are eight starters back, but departees Wilcher and Jamo were two of the top three tacklers on the squad.
Wilcher transferred to MMA rival Plymouth State College.
Houghton and senior Brian Gay of Westbrook provide experience at linebacker, while a veteran secondary includes senior strong safety Matt Myatt of South Portland, junior cornerback Mark Bissonnette of Biddeford, and senior free safety Jason Kast of South Berwick.
Senior defensive ends Dick LeTourneau of Fairfield and Mark Thomas anchor the line, where soph tackle Steve Brown returns after a stellar freshman campaign. Freshmen Rob Cody of Old Town and Ed Durham of Wells could provide immediate help.
LeTourneau was the All-NEFC first-team punter a year ago with a 35-yard average and exceptional hang time. The Mariners are looking for a placekicker.