The Big Ten Conference, Class C North in Maine high school football, underwent some minor changes in the offseason. Gone is Nokomis, which moved up to Class B, and in comes John Bapst, moving up from Class D, and Oceanside, which joined the league from Class B.

One thing that hasn’t changed in the league is the frontrunner. Defending state champion Winslow is still the team to beat.

“Everything runs through Winslow again until somebody knocks them off,” Madison coach Scott Franzose said.

Winslow may have lost some key players to graduation, including four-year starter Dylan Hapworth (tailback/kicker), and three-year starters Justin Martin (split end/linebacker) and Bobby Chenard (quarterback), but the Black Raiders return a number of players who are strong on both sides of the ball.

Alec Clark (guard/linebacker), Nat Beckwith (tackle/defensive tackle), Trenton Bouchard (wingback/cornerback), Kenny Rickard (fullback/linebacker) and Jacob Trask (quarterback/safety) are among the players Winslow expects big things this fall.

“We have quite a few outstanding two-way starters,” coach Mike Siviski said. “We want to try and build some depth so they don’t have to be two-way starters.”

Trask moves from receiver to quarterback for his senior season.

“He’s been waiting in the wings, and I think he could be outstanding,” Siviski said.

Juniors Nate St. Amand and Patrick Hopkins move into the offensive backfield with Rickard and Bouchard. Dylan Hutchinson moves into Trask’s former position, split end.

Defensively, the Black Raiders return starters at every level. Luke Fredette is back at defensive end after suffering a knee injury wrestling last winter.

Waterville coach Matt Gilley understands if people around the league are discounting his team. The Purple Panthers lost a lot of talent to graduation, particularly on the offensive line. Don’t be too quick to write Waterville off, Gilley said.

“People outside these walls look at what we graduated and think oh my God, we emptied the cupboard,” Gilley said. “We have a solid senior class. We certainly have holes to fill up front, but we have guys who are doing a nice job.”

Senior guard Brandon Choate returns to the Panthers’ line, and former tight end Trever Gray slides over to tackle. Senior Justin Kornsey takes over at center.

While Waterville graduated key players in the backfield, Gilley feels he has some skill position returnees who can be playmakers. Alex Pressey returns as a running back, and junior Theo Heaven will see carries as well. Demtrius Ramirez and Devon Begin can be used in a few ways. Gavin LaChance takes over at quarterback, and Gilley plans on using his skills in the run game, and in a no huddle, up tempo system.

“We’ll use some more option stuff. Gavin is quick and shifty. He’s a good decision maker,” Gilley said.

On the defensive line, Gray, a state champion in the shot put, moves from the end to the inside, where Gilley feels Gray can use his strength to control the line of scrimmage. Ramirez and Begin take over at defensive end. Pressey returns to the secondary.

Last season, Madison snapped a playoff drought that stretched back to the mid-1990s. This year, the Bulldogs are out to make sure that 2014 wasn’t a one-time thing.

“I think we’re going to be explosive this year. Making the playoffs, that was the goal last year,” senior quarterback Chase Malloy said. “This year, the goal is to go even further in the playoffs.”

Malloy, now in his third season as Madison’s quarterback, is surrounded by some new skill players. Leading rushers and receivers Cody Soucier, Jordan Curtis and Derek LeBlanc graduated, However, running backs Nick Morales and Briar Edgerly, and receivers Steven Oullette, Mitch Jarvais and Matt Curtis give the Bulldogs a bevy of weapons in their no huddle, spread offense.

“Potentially, this is the best skill set we’ve had,” Franzose said. “They have great confidence, and they’re buying into what we do.”

Senior tackle Noah Shibley leads an offensive line that includes guards Josh Rackliff and Chris Beaman, tackle Matt Brown, and center Corey Lombard.

Franzose said the defensive line could be a strength, with Shibley and Hunter Fernald at the ends, Lombard and Brown at tackle, and Beaman at the nose. Where graduation really hit the Bulldogs is linebacker. Over the past two seasons, Jordan Curtis made more than 200 tackles and that will be tough to replace. Rackliff and Aaron Morgan will get the chance.

“Filling Jordan Curtis’ shoes are huge,” Franzose said.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

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Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM