Belfast High School has been a Class B football power in Maine for the last several years.
The Lions affirmed that status with the ultimate achievement last season, beating Gorham for the state championship.
With success comes confidence, continued high expectations, and more young men in Belfast who want to wear the Lions’ uniform.
As Belfast gears up for defense of its state title, several athletes who have never played football have joined the squad. They will try to back up a nucleus of returning starters who helped the Lions win it all a year ago.
“There’s a lot of pride involved and wanting to duplicate what happened a year ago,” said co-head coach Butch Richards. “You can obviously use that to remind the kids not only what a great feeling that was, but also to emphasize how much work it took to get to that point.”
Richards might have an easier time grooming the offense this season than will co-coach Butch Arthers with the defensive unit.
Belfast’s multifaceted offense features halfback Josh Aldus, a 1,000-yard rusher last season, and Garren Horne, the Class B outdoor state champ in the 100 and 200 meters, who has moved from wingback to fullback.
Other returning starters include center Nick Thomann, guard Scott Hopkins, tackle Jason Wilkie, and ends Josh Gallant and Mike Bouchard.
Andy Whalen, who made three starts last season backing up the graduated Nick Arthers, takes over at quarterback.
“Andy got some valuable experience and was able to grow up a little bit,” Richards said. “He’s a headsy kid, very poised.”
The Lions are trying to revamp a 4-4 defense that lost three standout linebackers and two starting tackles, among others.
“There’s some big holes to fill on the defensive side of the ball,” Richards said. “We have either older kids who haven’t played before or sophomores who haven’t played to fit into those spots.”
Mainstays include linebacker Gallant, cornerbacks Horne and Aldus, and ends Bouchard and Caldwell. Ben Luce, the wingback, is competing with Craig Holm, Travis Lee, Tyler Benjamin, and Jon Walsh for playing time at linebacker.
Jeff Fries and newcomers Dan Johnson, a senior, and Jeremy Roberts, a junior, will try to shore up the tackle positions as will Matt Willis at end. Sean Leeman, Marcus Nadeau, and Nate Littlefield are vying for secondary spots.
Richards said Belfast is concentrating on first identifying its starters and then will try to gradually mold them into a cohesive unit on the field.
The coaching staff has spent more time during training camp breaking down the team into positional groups in order to teach skills to the numerous newcomers.
“We have done work with even smaller groups to work on basic fundamentals with the inexperienced kids – kids who are big, strong, athletic kids, but they’ve never played football before,” Richards said.
2003 results: 9-2, won Class B state title
Co-head coaches: Butch Arthers, 13th year; Butch Richards, 4th year
Key players: Josh Aldus, HB-CB, Sr.; Garren Horne, FB-CB, Sr.; Nick Thomann, OC-DT, Jr.; Scott Hopkins, OG-DT, Sr.; Jason Wilkie, OT-DT, Sr.; Josh Gallant, OE-LB, Sr; Andy Whalen, QB-DB, Jr.; Ben Luce, WB-LB, Sr.; Mike Bouchard, OE-DE, Sr.; Tim Caldwell, OG-DE, Jr.; Ryan Totman, OG-LB, Jr.
Outlook: The Lions hope to continue their status as one of the teams to beat in the Pine Tree Conference Class B ranks. Belfast should boast a potent offensive unit but may encounter some challenges defensively as it tries to replace graduated stars.