The Middlebury Union High School football looks to make a run in Division I in 2011. Pictured here are Tiger captains Marshall Hastings (left) and Austin Quesnel (right) with Tiger head coach Dennis Smith.
In 2009, a decline in player numbers in the overall program had Middlebury Union High football moving from Division I to Division II. In the following two years, the MUHS Tigers saw those numbers start coming back up. They posted an overall mark of 17-4 and made the Division II playoffs both years including visiting the title game last season.
All that has Middlebury joining rivals Mount Mansfield Union, Champlain Valley Union and Colchester High in moving into an expanded 14-team Division I in 2011.
“My feeling at the time was that we would be in Division II for two years. That with the numbers where they were that was were we needed to be for safety reasons, injuries,” said Head Coach Dennis Smith. “Now with the numbers back up I’m very comfortable playing back in Division I.”
The Tigers return a veteran senior group lead by the likes of Marshall Hastings, Austin Quesnel, Patrick Foley and Joey Zeno. That group will form the nucleus for a team that has eight players that have seen their share of time starting on both sides of the ball.
“A lot of my seniors that I have now were with me as sophomores when we didn’t really have a junior varsity team,” said Smith. “If they didn’t play in the varsity game then they did play in the j.v. game,” according to Smith. “You go down the list and this whole group has played a big part in our being were we are right now,”
Middlebury has two preseason tests the last coming with a Fair Haven Union High School football team that is regarded as a power in Division II this coming season.
Smith was pleased with the way his team came through the scrimmage with the slators, noting his first team offense showed the ability to make adjustments on the fly.
Defensively, he was pleased with their effort noting that they tried different things in getting ready to play teams in Division I that will play the spread offense.
The Tiger coach admits that he goes into this season not sure what to expect.
“Three weeks from now I’ll have a better idea, but we haven’t seen these teams for two years now and I don’t know what they have returning from last year,” said Smith. “I know that Hartford won the Division I title last year and that Rutland and Essex are always tough. The thing is that with the new schedule you could play what looks like the toughest slate, but it all depends on who is up and who is down this year.”
Smith points to staying healthy as being a big key for this group. While, the Tiger coach has a veteran core that will form the lion share of the starting line-up, the Tigers get young in a hurry after that with a group of juniors and sophomores that are untested at the varsity level.
The Tigers will get an early test of how they match up in the Division against host Division I power Essex High School.