Vermont Division I high school football has a whole new look this season, as the division expands from 10 to 14 teams, with eight teams qualifying for the playoffs instead of four. Colchester, Middlebury, CVU and Mount Mansfield all move up from Division II in the expansion.
While the top eight teams in the division will fight it out for a state championship, the six remaining teams that do not qualify the playoffs, will also pair off in "wildcard" games for a chance to finish their seasons with a victory. As the defending state champions, Hartford appears to again have the early edge as they return several key starters, including their quarterback.
In Rutland, Coach Mike Nolan enters his 19th season as head coach, after losing a whopping 12 players to graduation, including starting quarterback Troy Davine. Despite all the seniors lost, there are still several two-way players returning this season including several on the offensive and defensive lines.
Returning players on offense include running back Dominic Brown, wide receiver Kyle Kelly and tight end Ryan Ragosta , while other returning players with experience include linebacker Mike McCarroll and linemen Mack Shea, John Norman, Cam Kennedy and Matt Hock.
The RHS Raiders appear to have an interesting mix of young and experienced players, and they will need contributions from both, considering the amount of seniors lost from last season, including five who were named to the Shrine Bowl team. In a recent, three-way scrimmage in Keene, NH, the Raiders held their own in some extreme heat, hopefully showing a little toughness that will go a long way towards a successful season.
The Raiders will contend for a playoff spot, but will also need to stay away from injuries because there does not seem to be a lot of depth on the roster.
At MUHS in Middlebury, Coach Dennis Smith leads a team that made it to the Division II title game last season but the Tigers are now, not only a division higher, but also bring in a new quarterback in Dylan Robinson. Robinson moves under center after playing split end last year.
As always, however, Middlebury will run the ball. Leading the ground attack will be Jordan Connor, Patrick Foley and Marshall Hastings, with an offensive line that includes returning players Austin Quesnel, Dylan Lamphere and Joey Zeno. Other linemen include Gabe LaBerge and Ramsey Bronson. Tight ends include Danny Scolten, Sam Usilton, with Mitchell Clark and Sam Smith at split end.
Although the Tigers have plenty of experienced seniors and juniors on the roster, they too, will need to stay away from injuries because of a lack of depth. It is hard to gauge how a team will fair when jumping up a division, but the Tigers are coming off a strong season and do have some experience, which should go a long way towards making some noise in their new division.
At Mt. Anthony H.S., first year coach Bill Hay will be looking to establish the Patriots running game, as compared to the "spread" offense they have run in previous seasons. The two main running backs are the junior tandem of Alex Cross and Tyler Kunzmann.
Returning at quarterback is senior Chris Redding, who can help settle the new offense with his experience. The offensive line will be a key component to the success of this team, which includes Mike Plaisance, Jake Sausville, Zach bahan and Chris Colvin. Redding's main targets on the outside will be Juan Restrepo and tight end Josh Purvinis.
Defensively, middle linebacker Tex Seward is a third-year starter and is the glue, while defensive backs Ben David and Dan Lawson should for a formidable tandem in the secondary.
Head coach Mike Stone at Hartford H.S. will look to returning quarterback Tucker Stone, his son, for his leadership on the field. But the ground game is what this team relies on and several running backs will get the ball, including Troy Bell, Jonathan Carlson, Joseph Wood, Brandon Tetreault and Miles Lathan.
However, when the Hurricanes do throw the ball, Stone will be looking for the likes of Nolan Frechette, Owen Newton, Travis Wilson and Shane hamilton as targets. Defensively and because the roster numbers are not overwhelming, several players will see significant time on both sides of the ball, including Shannon O'Neil, Patrick McGrath, and Bobby Annis.
The offensive line should also be a strength, featuring returning players Bobby Murray, Alex Sykas, Joe Johnson and Mike Dulac. This will be a key aspect to the success of this team, pounding the ball on the ground and eating up the clock, behind an experienced offensive line.