Telstar Regional High School players work with tackling dummies during a preseason practice.
BETHEL — After struggling in Class D in 2016, Telstar took a year to regroup and played a JV schedule last year.
With the addition of a fifth class, Class E, the Rebels are back on a varsity schedule and looking forward to being more competitive while facing other schools that are trying to grow their programs.
“They’re all in the same boat — not a lot of kids and they’ve got to have a core of kids that are on the field all the time, and that core has got to stay healthy,” coach Tim O’Connor said. “A small team, as long as they work hard and they’re together and they’re fit, it makes a big difference.”
The Rebels have 22 players this year, and the hope is an emphasis on year-round training can keep most, if not all, healthy and on the field. If they can do that, O’Connor likes the mix he has of holdovers from Telstar’s last varsity season and new additions.
“We have six or seven returning seniors who have quite a bit of experience,” O’Connor said. “And we have another six or seven freshmen coming in that will help us out quite a bit.”
The veterans are scattered all over the field. Senior QB Brett Hastings started last year and has familiar options to give the ball to in versatile senior Aaron Vermette, senior halfback Shawn Mador and senior fullback Caleb Miller.
“We’ve got the potential. The key for us is execution,” Vermette said.
The Rebels also have offensive line depth, a rare luxury. Tackle Connor Landes and guard Bobby Sicotte lead a group of eight linemen who have a new blocking scheme to learn.
“It’s going to be more of a zone-blocking scheme,” Sicotte said. “In previous years, it was just go out and hit somebody. We have more technique this year.”
Defensively, Telstar hopes a line led by Landis and Vermette can create enough havoc to open the door to veteran linebackers such as Merrll and Matt Morin to make plays. They’re also changing up coverages to help a young secondary adapt to varsity.
“Our defensive core is strong,” Vermette said. “We’ve just got to trust each other on the stuff we know.”
With its emphasis on development, Class E will not have a postseason, so the Rebels know when their season will end. Vermette and Sicotte agreed they and their fellow seniors are fine with that arrangement.
They also know a schedule that includes former Class D foes Boothbay and Sacopee Valley will allow them to be more competitive in the short term and help the program’s long-term prospects.
“Last year, the talk was we’re juniors and seniors playing freshmen and sophomores,” Vermette said. “It feels good knowing that we’re going out playing juniors and seniors who are in the same situation.”