Leavitt was last year’s runaway favorite in the Class B division of the Pine Tree Conference from the first jumping jacks of the preseason to the final kneel-down of the state championship game.

The Hornets then bid farewell to a quarterback that walked on at the University of Maine, possibly the best running back in the state regardless of class, and four-fifths of a huge, experienced offensive line.

So who’s the safe pick headed into this season’s Eastern B fray? Leavitt, somehow.

And is the gap between the green-and-white and the pack any closer? Maybe not.

You might not see the Hornets hang 50 or 60 points on just about everyone in the league. Gardiner, Hampden and Waterville each will have their say. But it’s tough to argue against the road to Fitzpatrick Stadium winding through Turner.

“I like our chances. We’re the champs until somebody beats us in the playoffs, and we’re going to try to play that way,” said Leavitt coach Mike Hathaway. “We lost some good players, and we know that, and we might have to do a few things a little differently. But our goal is still the same: To be in the state championship. That’s what our kids are working toward.”

In addition to exercising a little bit of patience, Leavitt fans shouldn’t forget to grab a roster on the way through the gate at the first game or two. Gone, among others, are gifted signal caller Eric Theiss, bruising runner Josh Strickland and linemen Matt Pellerin, Mat Porter, Luke Wiley and Mitch Cobb.

For a while, at least, the Hornets’ defense might be ahead of the offense.

“There are seven guys there who were in the regular rotation and who played significant time in the state game,” Hathaway said.

Leading tackler Jake Ouellette returns at linebacker in tandem with Jason Fisher, who moves up from cornerback. Tackle Jesse Pelletier and end Zach Frost supply the pass rush, making the rangy Lucas Witham and Jordan Hersom interceptions waiting to happen at safety.

“We definitely have more experience on that side of the ball, and a lot of speed. We actually may be a hair faster than we were last year defensively,” Hathaway said. “Maybe not quite as a strong as we were up front, but we’ve got some guys who can get up and go pretty good.”

Max Cloutier is the nose guard. He’s also the lone returning starter among the offensive front five.

“I thought Max was the best center in the league last year, and he won’t be any different this year,” said Hathaway. “Our O-line I would say isn’t as strong or as big as they were last year, but they’re definitely more athletic.”

Pelletier and Frost, a former tight end, are the guards. James Morin (6-foot-4, 265 pounds) gives the Hornets their traditional block of granite at right tackle.

Leavitt’s run of all-conference quarterbacks is likely to continue with junior Hersom taking over for Theiss. Hersom, whose grandfather, father and uncle have won championships as coaches and cousin Jack won a Fitzpatrick Trophy, started as a receiver his freshman and sophomore seasons.

“He’s pretty comfortable with what’s going on. Athletically he’s as gifted a kid as we’ve had at that spot,“ Hathaway said. “We’ve had some runners and we’ve had some throwers and we’ve had kids that have done both above average, but I don’t think we’ve ever had a kid who can do both that well. It’s like having a tailback at quarterback.”

Ouellette, who started at tailback for much of last season while Strickland nursed an injury, gets the full-time gig. Witham at split end and Fisher in the slot give Hersom two proven sets of hands.

“I like our attitude, that’s for sure,” Hathaway said. “They’re hard-working kids.”

Friday’s opening night may tell the early tale of where the power lies in the league when Leavitt travels to Hampden.

The Hornets needed overtime to bounce the Broncos in last year’s opener before routing them in the playoffs. Hit hard by graduation, Hampden is armed with one of the state’s top senior quarterbacks in Jon Haws.

Gardiner reached the conference final last year and returns a solid cast that includes juniors Alonzo Connor at running back and Eddie Donnell at tackle.

“On paper, I’d put them right up there,” Hathaway said of the Tigers.

Senior QB Kyle Bishop should keep Waterville in the mix. John McCabe, a fullback and middle linebacker, leads the hope for a resurgence after a rare down year at Winslow.

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PTC Class  B predicted order of finish

By Randy Whitehouse

1. Leavitt

2. Gardiner

3. Waterville

4. Hampden

5. Morse

6. MDI

7. Camden Hills

8. Winslow

9. Belfast

10. Nokomis

PTC Class B predicted order of finish

By Kalle Oakes

1. Leavitt

2. Gardiner

3. Hampden

4. Waterville

5. Morse

6. MDI

7. Winslow

8. Belfast

9. Camden Hills

10. Nokomis

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