Mike Marston has only been Skowhegan’s varsity football coach for three years, but he has already been in this situation before.
Two years ago, he took over a team that had enjoyed some success, but had no returning starters, was largely unproven, and not expected to do much in a Pine Tree Conference loaded with contenders. That team finished seventh in the conference regular season standings, but made it all the way to the PTC title game before its season ended.
This fall, Marston is ahead of the game with five starters back, but this Indians roster is the youngest they’ve had in at least four years.
“We’ve been replacing guys the last two years. We had to replace all 22 two years ago and we graduated our entire line a year ago,” said Marston. “But the thing this year is we have just nine seniors. It’s rare that we start a sophomore and we may start four this year.”
Can the Indians shock the league again?
“I think the key to our season is development, how well we develop and how quickly we develop,” Marston said.
One thing in Skowhegan’s favor is its recent tradition of starting off slowly, but steadily improving each week and peaking down the stretch.
“I don’t know why exactly that is, but one of my goals is to play our best ball at the end of the year,” Marston said. “We try to play a lot of guys, and that can hurt us early on, but I think it benefits us in the long run. It also helps team chemistry.”
That’s one area of strength for the Indians.
“We try to make it fun for the players and I think the success we’ve had certainly doesn’t hurt, but this is such a great, blue collar football town with lots of community support,” Marston said.
That may explain Skowhegan’s numbers: Marston has 112 total players out with 43 being freshmen.
“We may be relatively inexperienced, but numbers and chemistry are team strengths,” said Marston. “The question mark for us is with so much youth, we’re not sure how we’re going to start out.”
To that end, Marston and his coaches have been emphasizing fundamentals. The extra attention seems to be paying off as penalties and miscues have actually been down this preseason.
The X’s and O’s haven’t changed as Skowhegan still uses it’s base double-wing, two-tight-end offensive formation and 5-2 defensive systems.
The only returning starters this season are senior captains Ryan Candage, Sean Cates, and Tucker Davis plus junior Greg Saydjari. Throw in guys like junior Shawn Grey and sophomore Billy Clark, who each saw significant playing time and the experience level isn’t as low as it looks on paper.
So who does Marston point to as favorites this season?
“Well, Bangor, Lawrence, Mt. Blue, Lewiston, Messalonskee… and hopefully Skowhegan,” he said. “When you’re this young, it’s a plus as far as building for the future, but that doesn’t mean we plan on giving away the present to do it.”
2005 results: 7-3, lost in Eastern Maine Class A championship game
Head coach: Mike Marston, 3rd year
Key players: Ryan Candage, TE-DE, Sr.; Sean Cates, OG-NT, Sr.; Tucker Davis, HB-CB, Sr.; Greg Saydjari, FB-LB, Jr.; Zack Whiting, HB-FS, Jr.; Scott Mitchell, OG-LB, Jr.; Shawn Grey, TE-DE, Jr.; Erik Thistle, QB, Jr.; Billy Clark, HB, So.
Outlook: Especially at the outset, Marston will look to use ball-control offense to grind it out and keep opposing defenses off the field. The Indians are still a power, run-oriented team and need to be successful in that regard as new quarterback Thistle settles in.