Conduct a quick survey of Campbell Conference Class C coaches and you’ll almost hear a chorus anointing Winthrop as the favorite to win its second championship in three years.

Almost.

“No, I don’t like it,” said Winthrop coach Joel Stoneton. “A couple of years ago I understood it a little better. I’m not sure what we’ve done in the past to deserve that. I think it’s all based on the fact that we only had a couple of seniors last year.”

That certainly doesn’t hurt the perception.

Heading into the opening weekend, the first name on Winthrop’s depth chart is an upperclassman at 19 of 22 positions.

“(Defending champion) Dirigo had a lot of seniors. Lisbon had a lot of seniors in the past,” noted Livermore Falls coach Brad Bishop. “Senior-laden teams do the best, I think.”

Winthrop should flaunt a balanced offense with Travis Luce at quarterback and Ryan Conant and Derek Pamphrey sharing the load at tailback.

Conant was Winthrop’s second-leading rusher last season and also lined up at QB in the wildcat formation. Pamphrey has recovered from a knee injury that erased his junior season.

“Keep an eye on him,” Stoneton said of Pamphrey. “He can fly.”

Travis Hutchins, formerly a guard, is lining up at fullback while Eric Duplessis recovers from an ankle injury. The Ramblers have that luxury with seniors Travis Sherman, Chris Halligan and Ryan Castonguay and juniors Chris Bowers and Tyler Reeves up front.

Joey Brennan and Colby Laflamme, also seniors, are the split ends.

Defensive speed has been a hallmark of past Winthrop championship teams, and the Ramblers should have that in abundance with Duplessis, Conant, Hutchins and Hunter Sherman at linebacker and Pamphrey, Brennan and Laflamme in the secondary.

Still, Stoneton keeps a stone face when he conveys his skepticism, declaring Oak Hill and Maranacook his preseason favorites.

“I understand people are going to try to put a target on your back, but I think it’s going to be a really competitive conference,” he said. “You always would like to say you could be No. 1. I just don’t see it yet.”

Graduation wasn’t nearly as kind to Oak Hill, but the Raiders are rated as a team to watch largely on the strength of the one marquee player they do have back: Senior tailback Josh Allen.

“He ended up with around 980 yards, and that’s pretty impressive when you consider that he missed almost two games with an injury,” said Oak Hill coach Dave Wing.

The rest of Oak Hill’s backs and receivers are new to the varsity starting lineup.

Senior quarterback Cam Morin will hand off to Allen, junior Cody DePuy and sophomore Joel Wells while looking downfield to senior Craig Morrill.

“He doesn’t have a lot of varsity game experience, but I think of him as an experienced quarterback,” Wing said of Morin. “I had him when I coached JV. He knows the offense and he’s confident back there.”

Senior tight end and co-captain Cody Provost is a key to both the passing and running games. Nick Wells, Zach Leeman and Mike Saunders headline a young offensive line.

Injuries to two key players devastated Lisbon last year.

Quarterback Luke Caron and running back Tobey Harrington ranked among the league leaders in passing and rushing, respectively, before going down at different times with season-ending injuries.

Both are back this year, but keeping the first string on the field is still a concern for the Greyhounds, who always field one of the smaller rosters in the conference.

“The key is staying healthy,” Lisbon coach Dick Mynahan said. “We’re trying to go one deep at each position, so keeping the players healthy is important.”

Caron and Harrington, who will line up at a number of different positions, join fellow senior Josh Pomerleau and Mike McNamara to give Lisbon the firepower to match other high-powered offenses in the Campbell Conference. The offensive line has a strong backbone, with senior center John Crafts, a three-year starter, flanked on either side by Nick Dingley and Matt Nicholson.

“We have a lot of experience inside and in the backfield,” Mynahan said. “Our tackles will be new and our ends will be new and will need some time to get in sync.”

The hope is that the defense, led by Crafts, a four-year starter at defensive end, and Harrington at free safety, can hold more of the fort while the offense’s perimeter players entrench themselves. The Greyhounds have a tough schedule with crossover games against Northern Division powers Winthrop and Oak Hill. If Lisbon picks up wins in those rivalry games, it will be tough to knock out of the top spot in the Southern Division.

Don’t go to sleep on defending state champion Dirigo. Two-thirds of the Cougars’ roster is comprised of freshmen and sophomores after the titanic 12-0 campaign in 2009, but speed, the ability to throw downfield and a penchant for rushing the passer remain strengths.

Spencer Ross is one of the most explosive players in the conference as a runner, receiver, defensive back and return specialist. His role expanded even further over the summer when backfield mate Bryan Blackman suffered a possible season-ending Achilles injury.

Coach Doug Gilbert still hopes to have Blackman back in time for the playoffs. Sophomore Nick Young will fill in for now.

“He’s just as quick as Ross,” Gilbert said. “We’ll have speed. A lot of speed.”

Junior Ben Holmes takes over at QB from Fitzpatrick Trophy finalist and league MVP Nic Crutchfield. He’ll be protected by an athletic offensive line that features Arik Fenstermacher, Jake Dowland, Chad Cormier and Jacob Weston.

Dirigo is excited about the talent of a sophomore class that includes Young, fullback Justin Dowland, tackles Thomas Barnett and Zach White, receiver Spencer Trenoweth and tight end Nelson Pepin.

“Every year I say I want to win one more game than we did last year. We can’t do it this year,” Gilbert said. “We’ll be fairly good. If you’re looking for us to be lucky to win a game, I don’t think that’s going to be it. It’s just that everybody in our league is going to be tough. There are no freebies.”

With less than five months remaining before a vote on possible school consolidation in 2011, Livermore Falls and Jay each have individual playoff hopes in what could be the final season of their storied rivalry.

The Andies will tackle the season with an experienced line in front of a mostly new backfield. Dillon Newcomb, Sam Chabot, Tyler Halliday, Holden Parker, Mike Castonguay and tight end Mike Armstrong provide the push up front.

Alex Rose is the veteran runner. He’s surrounded by sophomore Nate Hamblin at QB, juniors Gavin Jones and Steve Michaud and sophomore Tommy Lee. Michaud and Lee saw action as backups to the league’s leading rusher, Chandler White, and speedster Jeff Ryder last year.

“You try to hide people, but the quarterback you can’t hide and the backs you can’t hide,” Bishop said. “We’re not senior-heavy either. I don’t think we’re as fast as last year, but we’re going to get through with toughness I hope.”

Newcomb at tackle and linebackers Halliday and Chabot highlight the defense.

There’s a similar scouting report at Jay, where linemen Mat Ferland, Matt Lancaster and Ron Holland all return and most of the so-called skill position players don’t.

“We lost our leading passer, rusher and tackler,” Jay coach Mark Bonnevie said. “I’m not sure how many teams can say all three.”

The coach’s son, Zach Bonnevie, took snaps at QB each of the last two years, however, while Jordan D. Couture and Bill Calden each logged plenty of carries.

Kyle Storer will be a factor on both sides of the ball at tight end and linebacker, as will slender but quick receiver and defensive back Jake Bessey.

Each of the last two seasons, Jay needed a win over Livermore Falls in its season finale combined with some out-of-town help in order to make the playoffs. It didn’t materialize on either side of the equation.

“We’d like to stay away from that (scoreboard watching) in a good way,” Bonnevie said. “Not stay away from it because it doesn’t matter.”

Maranacook dislodged Jay from that final spot a year ago and is poised to move up the ladder with Luke Emery returning from a 1,000-yard season.

Last year’s surprise finalist, Yarmouth, and Old Orchard Beach also are considered playoff contenders from the southern division of the 14-team league.

CampbellConference Class  C predicted order of finish

By Randy Whitehouse

1. Winthrop

2. Lisbon

3. Yarmouth

4. Oak Hill

5. Dirigo

6. OOB

7. Maranacook

8. Livermore Falls

9. Jay

10. Boothbay

11. Traip

12. Freeport

13. Madison

14. Sacopee Valley

Campbell Conference Class C predicted order of finish

By Kalle Oakes

1. Winthrop

2. Lisbon

3. Maranacook

4. Oak Hill

5. Dirigo

6. Livermore Falls

7. Yarmouth

8. Jay

9. Madison-Carrabec

10. Old Orchard Beach

11. Traip

12. Boothbay

13. Freeport

14. Sacopee Valley


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