WATERVILLE — Last year at this time, a few days before the opening game of the season, Colby College quarterback Justin Ciero was just hoping to make an impression. Maybe get a little playing time.

“I was just trying to make a splash any way I could, basically,” Ciero said after Thursday’s practice.

Now, after year in which he was named the Mules’ starting quarterback as a freshman, what does Ciero want?

“Now being through it, you just want everything,” Ciero said.

A native of Chappaqua, N.Y., Ciero enters this season as Colby’s starting quarterback, and with a season of experience as the foundation, his expectations are high. The Mules open the New England Small College Athletic Conference season Saturday at home against Williams College.

“(Ciero) spent a lot of time in the offseason, watching film on his own, reviewing the playbook. He clearly had a great summer,” Colby head coach Jonathan Michaeles said. “Fundamentally, he’s much improved, but really overall, his command, understanding and confidence are in much better places.”

Ciero played some in the season opener at Williams last season, and took over as starting quarterback in Week 2 against Middlebury. He threw for 1,001 yards, with 10 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Ciero also led the Mules in rushing with 497 yards and three touchdowns. Ciero finished his freshman season fourth in the NESCAC in touchdown passes, eighth in passing yards per game (125.1), and ninth in rushing (62.1 ypg).

“Having that experience, being around great players, and having that year to make mistakes, get out some of the kinks like I did, and being more familiar with the offense. This is my second year, so I’m able to absorb a lot more,” Ciero said.

Ciero began to feel more comfortable running the Mules’ offense in the second half of the 2012 season, and it showed. His completion percentage crept up, and the Mules won games. After starting the season 0-4, Colby won three of its final four games to finish the season 3-5.

“We started getting on a roll,” Ciero said. “We kind of started building on something, and I think that will continue this year.”

With Ciero’s experience, Michaeles and offensive coordinator Steve Opgenorth feel like they can go deeper into the playbook on game day.

“Come game time, we probably ended up scaling it back a little. Not on the game plan, but with what we were calling. Coach O (Opgenorth) knew what Justin was confident in. I think that’s greatly expanded this year, mostly with our passing game,” Michaeles said.

Last season, Ciero’s 136 rushing attempts led the team and were 28 more carries than halfback Spencer Gopaul. Michaeles said that is likely to change. It’s not that Michaeles doesn’t want Ciero to run. He just doesn’t want him to run so much.

“We hope he would not be. But he’s also one of our most gifted ball carriers,” Michaeles said. “We’ll have some plays called for him, but I don’t think we’ll have to lean on him to be our number one carry guy.”

Colby’s top three receivers from last season graduated, so Ciero is building relationships with a new group of pass catchers. One of those is Cony High graduate Luke Duncklee, who caught eight passes for 66 yards in the 2012 opening game before breaking his ankle and missing the rest of the season.

Duncklee said he and Ciero are developing strong chemistry on the field.

“He really has a better grasp of the offense. It’s tough as a freshman, and last year he did a great job using his athleticism,” Duncklee said. “He knows how to check out of plays, call audibles, he looks great.”

The biggest improvement in Ciero may be his confidence, Michaeles said.

“If you don’t have complete confidence, it’s tough to lead. He was able to do it physically last year, because he’s such a good athlete,” Michaeles said. “He could manage through the offense, but he couldn’t command it. Now he’s starting to figure out what all his tools are.”

Last season, the Mules were third in the NESCAC in total defense, but last in total offense. This season, the offense needs to pull its weight, Ciero said.

“We’ve just got to keep moving the ball. Our defense has proven that they can make big stops in big situations. It’s up to us to get going,” Ciero said.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

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