The 2009 football season was the best in Gray-New Gloucester High School’s brief gridiron history, but it was still a long ways off from the top of the Campbell Conference.

Graduation will take away a dozen Patriots, including running back Taylor Valente, the conference’s leading rusher. But Phil Prideaux, recently named the Patriots’ third varsity coach in the last four years, isn’t afraid to start virtually from scratch.

“It’s going to be a challenge for the next few years,” he said. “We lost a lot of kids last year, and Taylor Valente is a huge loss. But we plan on reinstating the fundamentals and techniques up through the program.”

Prideaux, 54,  served as an assistant coach for 11 years at Oak Hill, where he also coached tennis, lacrosse, basketball and baseball. Last year, he was Gray-New Gloucester’s defensive coordinator under Shawn Austin, who resigned after one year at the helm.

The 4-4 defense the Patriots ran last year will remain intact, but the offense will need an overhaul, Prideaux said.

“We’re going to be a little more Wing-T,” he said.

Fortunately, the offense will be in the experienced hands of now junior QB Heath Martell, who threw for 261 yards in his first year as a starter last year. Filling the other spots will tough, though, with nine other starters graduating.

Gray-New Gloucester tied the best record in school history last year by finishing 4-5, but was still a couple of spots out of the Western B playoffs. To reach the playoffs for the first time, the Patriots need to make a greater commitment, Prideaux said, starting immediately.

“The big thing right now is getting the kids in the weight room and getting to kids buy into the fact that any successful program starts in the weight room,” he said. “You go to Mountain Valley right now or Leavitt or Cape Elizabeth and the weight room is crowded. We have an excellent weight room but it isn’t used very much.”

“What’s nice about football is you don’t have to be a great athlete. If you’re willing to put in the time in the weight room, you can become a decent football player,” added Prideaux, who recently returned from a football conference in Rhode Island.

Gray-New Gloucester’s varsity program started in 2003, but the feeder program is well-established, Prideaux said.

“The community has worked extremely hard to get the football program going,” said Prideaux, who is currently looking to fill out his coaching staff. “The community really wants to have a good program there.”

While Prideaux took care of one vacancy, Gray-New Gloucester still has two more to fill. Co-curricular director Melanie Craig will be stepping down on June 30, the end of her current contract with SAD 15. Boys’ basketball coach Scott Flagg also resigned following the season after four years at the helm as his family is moving to Brewer to be closer to extended family. The Patriots finished 8-10 this season.