Dirigo players navigate the ropes during a preseason practice.
DIXFIELD — Despite low numbers, Dirigo refused to make 2016 about attrition. Instead, the Cougars held their ground against some of Class D South’s biggest and best teams and earned a home playoff win.
Dirigo now has the experience to match its talent and determination, and even a few more bodies to enhance it chances of once again competing in a deeper division.
After hovering around 20 players on the active roster last year, Dirigo will probably exceed two dozen this fall. But the key is it retains a large core that emerged from last year stronger that its numbers indicate.
“We do have a small group, but we have eight returning on offense, eight on defense,” Dirigo coach Jim Hersom said. “We’re moving kids around a little bit, so some other guys are going to have to step up.”
Many of the returners will be asked to step up, too, especially those who got their first year of varsity experience last year, such as senior QB Luke Lueders. The dual threat has most of his weapons back and a better idea of how to use them.
“I definitely feel a lot more comfortable, definitely a lot more aware of what we’re trying to do,” Lueders said.
“(Lueders’ development) has been seamless. Our backfield is returning with him, so that makes it nice,” Hersom said. “He’s going to play a role this year. We’re going to have to throw the football some, so we’re looking for a lot of good things from him.”
Tailback Cooper Chiasson and fullback Alex Gorham return from one of the league’s most productive backfields last year.
Though Gaziano Lineman Award semifinalist Bryce Whittemore graduated, most of the line returns, led by seniors Jon Wainwright, Dalton Berry and Quentin Penley.
The Cougars like to grind out long drives behind them, but Hersom would like to give them more help on both sides of the ball to keep them fresh.
“Physically, we’re hoping we can stand up,” Hersom said. “We’re trying to get the depth, get 16-to-18 kids that we can feel good about having in a varsity game. We’ve got a couple or three freshmen that we think are going to have to give us some minutes.”
Most of those minutes will likely come in the secondary. The front is stout, led by four-year starting linebacker Cam Turner.
Starting with rival Mountain Valley on opening night, the new schedule adds even more teams that will out-man the Cougars this year. But Dirigo is used ready to state even more emphatically that strength doesn’t necessarily come in numbers alone.
“I feel like we can. We just have to stay focused,” Lueders said.