PITTSFIELD — It’s a fact of life in high school football: Players graduate. At the end of each season, coaches cross names off the depth chart and start the rebuilding process. Most of the time, you lose a few players here, a few players there.

After last season ended with a loss to Oak Hill in the Class D state championship game, Maine Central Institute head coach Tom Bertrand looked at what the Huskies were losing on offense. Ten starters, including the entire offensive line, were graduating.

Not that you’d know it from the results on the field this fall.

After running the table in the Little Ten Conference in each of the last two seasons, the Huskies are once again rolling through the conference, despite all the new faces. MCI is 5-0 heading into a key game Saturday against also undefeated Dexter.

“We graduated a whole bunch of guys who were key to our success the last couple of years, but we returned a lot of guys who had experience and were part of it, too,” Bertrand said. “People thought we were down and out last year, and the guys stepped up and filled that void. We’ve got guys filling it now.”

The Huskies average 378.2 yards per game of offense, second only to Orono, the third team in the LTC undefeated. The Huskies average just over 47 points per game, with a season-low of 41 coming in the second week against Bucksport.

Running back Willie Moss is the lone returning offensive starter from the state championship game, although others, including running back Eli Bussell, played key parts for the Huskies throughout the 2015 season and were ready to step into larger roles. New right guard PJ Plummer, a junior, and right tackle Hank McWilliams, a senior, were behind all-conference players Curtis McLeod and Mike Steeves, respectively. Center Aaron Schanck, a junior, also had to wait his turn.

“Hank’s been biding his time and now it’s his time to play that key role,” Bertrand said.

The left side of the line is where the rebuilding was most noticeable. At left guard, Bertrand and his staff went with sophomore Seth Bussell, a converted fullback. At left tackle is senior Aaron Noonan, who had played tight end and before that, wide receiver. When Bertrand told Noonan of the position switch in the preseason, Noonan was surprised, but accepting.

“All right, let’s see how it works out and go from there,” Noonan said when asked what his initial reaction was. “It’s different, but I have to make the sacrifice to help the team.”

At 5-foot-10 and 170 pounds, Noonan is not the prototypical offensive tackle, but he’s aggressive and eager to learn the new position.

“I’m getting used to it each week, and getting better and better at it,” Noonan said. “(I like) Kicking people’s butts. I’m just having fun down there, getting in the trenches, getting the hard work done.”

Quarterback Josh Buker replaced a four-year starter Greg Vigue. Buker started at defensive back for the Huskies last season and saw time on offense as a receiver. He was ready to run MCI’s no-huddle attack.

“I prepared myself at the end of the season. I got in the weight room and got bigger. I feel like the coaches have confidence in me, which gives me confidence,” Buker said.

Playing behind a rebuilt offensive line was never a concern, Buker said.

“They went against that offensive line that graduated in practice. They got better just doing that. The coaches put them in and that’s how we do it. Next man up,” he said.

With Buker, MCI has tweaked its offense a little to account for his skill set. Through five games, Buker has thrown for 345 yards and 10 touchdowns, and run for 250 yards and three touchdowns.

“He’s just such an athlete and playmaker. He’s the point guard on the basketball team, and he does the same thing on the football field. He makes things happen,” Bertrand said. “There’s times I have to bite my tongue, because he’s out there doing his own thing, but he’s making some things happen. He’s just that good.”

A league-high seven players have scored a touchdown for MCI, led by Buker’s seven (Buker returned three punts for a score in Friday’s win over Houlton). Adam Bertrand has six touchdowns, while Eli Bussell and David Young each have five.

If there’s one thing Bertrand would like to see improvement, it’s offensive tempo. The Huskies haven’t run plays at the frantic speed of recent seasons.

“One of the things we’ve not done as well this year is get the tempo going as much as we want. We’ve got new stuff in, a whole new package to use with Josh’s speed and agility. We had to teach some of that on the fly. Our tempo and ability to get fast-paced is sacrificed a little bit,” Bertrand said.

The pace is different, but with 10 new starters, the result is the same. Buker thinks about it, and probably speaks for the entire LTC.

“I don’t think many teams could do that,” Buker said.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM


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