LEWISTON – The kickoff of the 2007 high school football season this Friday marks a new era in Lewiston.

Reigning Fitzpatrick Trophy winner Jared Turcotte is now two hours up the Turnpike in Orono, and while it’s no easy chore to replace a player of his considerable physical and leadership abilities, the team he left behind is eager to step out of his considerable shadow and carve it’s own legacy.

“Obviously, we feel that void, but we just find new ways to approach the game,” senior quarterback and co-captain Mason Giroux said.

“We’re going to be a stronger team than last year overall,” he added. “(Turcotte) kind of took the pressure off of everyone else last year because he could change the game in one play.”

Now that pressure is more equally distributed among the rest of the Blue Devils roster instead on the shoulders of one player, and the players who are still here welcome it.

And make no mistake, there will be pressure.

With nine of 11 starters returning on both sides of the ball, the Blue Devils are one of the favorites in what should be an ultra-competitive Pine Tree Conference.

“We did a lot of work during the off-season.” senior co-captain Matt Letourneau said. “We don’t just have the same kids here as last year, they’ve all got that experience and they’re all a lot bigger and stronger, too.”

“Some of the legacy of Jared is going to continue. He set a pretty high standard,” coach Bill County said. “Our kids haven’t talked about it a lot, but I think generally the talk among the team is that there will be fewer standouts and hopefully more diversity in what we do. And that’s not taking anything away from Jared at all.”

County and his players admit that last year everyone, including the coaches, too often stood back and waited for Turcotte to make the big play.

While Turcotte delivered far more often than not, they feel it was ultimately unfair to him and to themselves to allow him to carry that weight. Opponents usually loaded up to slow down Turcotte, and in doing so, often stopped Lewiston.

“I think that was the downfall of our team. We relied on him too much,” said Letourneau, an all-conference linebacker last year, who also should be one of the conference’s top fullbacks. “This year, I think if something’s not working, we don’t have to worry about it. We can move on to something else. That’s opened up the game for us.”

“We might throw the ball more than five times,” said a chuckling County, whose teams have been notorious for grinding yardage out on the ground. “Mason doesn’t believe it. He thinks I’m bluffing.”

Teams will still have to respect Lewiston’s running game, though. Junior Westley Myers, moving from wing-back to tailback, has the unenviable task of filling Turcotte’s shoes.

“I look at it like I’m not filling his shoes,” Myers said. “I’m here because my team has given me a job to do, and I’m trying to do it.”

“He’s got tremendous speed, probably a few more moves than Jared had,” County said. “He doesn’t have his strength and doesn’t have his power and obviously isn’t as seasoned, although he did play almost every offensive down last year.”

Without seeing Turcotte in the backfield on every offensive down, opponents might take the Devils lightly before they’ve established a new identity. Letourneau thinks they will be doing so at their own risk.

“There’s a lot of stiff competition in the league this year. You’ve got to come ready to play each and every game,” he said. “I have no problem with the underdog role. If people want to overlook us, that’s fine with me.”

After being elected captains following last season, Letourneau, Giroux and guard John Collette didn’t waste any time saying that there was no one else to fall back on anymore. It was now their turn.

“We spread the word to our team,” Letourneau said, “that if we work hard, this could be a special year for us.”

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