Litchfield’s Kyle Flaherty, left and Turner’s Levi Morin bring a local flavor to the Bates College football team.
LEWISTON — Bates College football coach Mark Harriman stopped a recent interview for a moment to shout instructions to his team.
“Dynamic warmup. Let’s go,” he bellowed.
From a corner of Garcelon Field, a player let out a yell.
“Wooo hoo-hooooooo!” — As if mom called him in for dinner.
That happy Bobcat backs up something Harriman said a few minutes earlier:
“I’ve really enjoyed this group,” he said. “I mean, they’ve worked really hard, a lot of enthusiasm, they’ve really competed against one another, and those are some of the things we wanted to stress going into the season, and I’ve been really, really happy with how they’ve responded.”
Team captain Frank Williams, a senior slotback, says the 2016 season was great, and last year’s seniors were “great guys,” but the camaraderie is on another level this year. Everyone, from the freshmen up to the senior class, is comfortable, and everyone is involved and competing.
“In general, this is definitely one of the more fun preseasons I’ve had here,” Williams said. “We go out, people (are) chirping back and forth, having fun, which is huge; if you want to win, you got to have fun.”
Williams and fellow senior Sean Lovett, a left tackle, both used the work “jell” to describe the Bobcats’ preseason.
Such chemistry and togetherness will be crucial to Bobcats’ success, the players say, because of the team’s schemes: The triple option offense and the 3-5 defensive scheme require cohesion and communication.
“Everybody has a role in the offense … I’d say they’re all equal,” Williams said. “And if everybody does their own role to their best ability, we win the game.”
Harriman said the offense should be the Bobcats’ strength due to the amount of returners. All the skill position players are back, the offensive line is deep and experienced, and there are two quarterbacks who saw legitimate action in 2016.
The Bates coaching staff still has not decided who will be the starting quarterback, junior Sandy Plashkes or sophomore Matt Golden. Harriman expects the decision will be made a day or two before Saturday’s opener at Amherst.
Plashkes is the incumbent, having started the first seven games of last season. After Plashkes was injured in the third quarter against Bowdoin, Golden came off the bench and led the Bobcats to a huge fourth quarter and a 24-7 win. Golden ran for 126 yards in his quarter-plus under center. He also started the season finale, a 24-7 loss to Hamilton.
Despite his limited action, Golden’s 214 yards rank third on the team last year, behind Peter Boyer (374 yards) and Plashkes (243).
“They both have played for us in the past. Now it’s just a matter of seeing how this thing shakes out,” Harriman said. “There may be times when we’re using both of them. They both have their strengths.”
Either way, Harriman said, “We’ll have somebody that has taken some snaps for us.”
The Bobcats one inexperienced offensive position is center, where sophomore Jack O’Brien is taking over for James Fagan.
“I think Jack’s going to be a great fill for that position, for sure,” Lovett said.
The rest of the line is filled with players who saw a lot of action last year as Bates rotated its linemen often, including Lovett, Mike Cronin, Dylan Rasch and Dan Marino.
Most of last year’s top rushers return, highlighted by Boyer, Williams and Mickoy Nichol. There’s also Zach Doyon and Litchfield’s Kyle Flaherty.
Williams and Nichol, both slotbacks, were Bates’ top receivers in 2016. The bulk of Williams’ team-high 312 receiving yards game in a nine-catch, 223-yard performance in a win over Williams College.
“Obviously with having all our skill guys back and having more awareness as opposed to just knowing their assignment — more big-picture awareness, I guess, is really going to help us,” Harriman said.
Last year, Bates averaged 13.9 points per game (the defense, meanwhile, allowed 21.6). Lovett said Bobcats want to put up 24 points each game in 2017.
“We gotta really execute, really do our jobs if we’re going to get to that point,” Lovett said. “But, definitely, (we want) to help our defense more than in years past, we really want to be that driving force, help the defense, give them a breather.”
“I think our defense, as a 3-5, it’s such a one-unit thing, because whenever we come on a stunt or a blitz, everybody has to be in the right position and be communicating, and be on the same page, and make sure we get the signs,” defensive lineman Levi Morin, of Turner, said.
Harriman said this season is essentially the opposite of 2016 because the offense is experienced while the defense has some holes to fill.
One of those holes was left by the graduation of linebacker Mark Upton, who was named to All-East Region by D3football.com.
“Mark Upton was one of the best linebackers in New England,” Morin, who helped Leavitt win the 2013 state championship, said. “But we have Bobby (Dee) coming in, and he’s been really good for us, even in the offseason he worked hard.”
The Bobcats also lost free safety Trevor Lyons and another key linebacker, Sam Francis.
But there are veterans elsewhere.
“I think we got a lot of guys coming back, especially on the defensive line,” Morin said. “In the secondary, (Joe) Frake’s is going to step up for us … he’s kind of taken over the leadership role in our defense.”
Harriman said everyone getting up to speed will be important in the beginning of the season.
“Defensively, I think we’re going to be very athletic,” he said. “But … the experience factor will be something that we’ll try to deal with early as far as what we’re doing, and making sure we try to put them in good positions.”
Bates also returns both of its kickers from a season ago, junior punter Justin Foley and senior placekicker Grant DeWald.
That’s a good thing, especially in the case a Foley, who was named second-team All-NESCAC in 2016 after setting a school record for most punts in a season.
Bates went 3-5 last year and claimed its third consecutive CBB title with wins over Colby and Bowdoin.
The 2017 season opens a week earlier than usual this year because the NESCAC eliminated the traditional scrimmage the week before the season and turned it into an actual game.
So the Bobcats have nine games rather than eight. That means they’ll have one more opportunity to earn a win, and that a .500 record isn’t possible — they’ll have either a winning or a losing season.
Along with continuing the recent domination of their two in-state rivals, the seniors also have their sights set on going out as winners.
“This year, the big goal is a winning record, for sure,” Lovett said. “At least in my head, it’s a winning record. Anything past that would be great. We’re aiming high this year.”
A winning record this year would be Bates’ first since 2012.
Harriman said each game of the season is up for grabs.
“I honestly feel we can beat anybody on our schedule,” he said, “but we need to play really well every week to beat anybody on our schedule.”
Bates College football coach Mark HarrimanBates College football coach Mark Harriman