Assistant Sports Editor
MANCHESTER -- Division II runner-up a year ago, the Burr and Burton Academy football team knows the rigors of reaching the season’s ultimate stage. And in prolific senior quarterback Jake Stalcup, Vermont’s reigning Gatorade Player of the year, the Bulldogs possess one of the keys to a possible return trip to the state championship game.
The real test when the new season kicks off Aug. 31 is how quickly the players replacing last year’s 17 seniors can hit their stride.
"It’s one big puzzle right now," BBA coach Jason Thomas said. "We’re trying to get some kids settled in certain positions and get them better at the positions they’re settled in."
But, even after every vacant spot is filled, the real trick is learning on the fly.
Of last year’s influential senior core -- one that led BBA to a 7-4 mark and its first state final, a 57-34 loss to Fair Haven -- many were multi-year starters on both sides of the ball, leaving little room for others to break through with significant minutes.
"We feel like we have a lot of talent, it’s just the experience that we’re looking for," Thomas said. "We’re hoping that we can improve -- and this sounds cliché -- each and every week because most of the kids are going to be getting that game experience on a weekly basis."
In the Bulldogs’ spread offense scheme, everything will continue to flow through Stalcup, a prototypical pocket-passer at 6-foot-4.
"He made a lot of plays for us last year, a lot of good decisions, and we’re relying on him heavily to keep us rolling," Thomas said.
As a junior last year, he threw for nearly 2,500 yards and 31 touchdowns to earn the Gatorade award, one of the premier individual accolades in high school football.
"It was a great honor, but it’s back to work," Stalcup said. "I’m not trying to win those single honors, I’m trying to win a state championship. I’d have given that up in a heartbeat to win a state championship last year."
Now, however, most of Stalcup’s fellow starters must be replaced. This includes the entire, three-headed backfield of Mitch Magarian, Max Johnson and Grady Murtagh, as well as wide receivers Jake Coyle and Jake Oliver, who also handled all of the Bulldogs’ kicking needs.
Also gone are line stalwarts Ben Hunter and Riley Kevil, and all-around contributors Adis Muminovic and Eamonn Walsh.
One welcome addition is athletic senior Chris Redding, who transferred from Mount Anthony. Thomas is keen on Redding’s offensive playmaking ability, his talent as a kick-returner and his skill on defense.
Thomas hopes to fill the vacant spots in the backfield with the likes of Dalton Blackwell, Nelson Pike and Eric Cerra. The BBA coach also noted the emerging contributions of sophomore Wilson Vickers on defense, Skyler Clark at outside linebacker and Sam Peloquin on the line.
"We’re not a very big football team but we’ve got some athletic kids and we’re going to try to use that to our advantage," Thomas said.
Top-heavy last year, Division II looks to be more wide-open this year, Thomas said.
Still with the bad taste from how their 2011 campaign closed, his Bulldogs know how they want to end the 2012 season.
"The obvious goal for the entire season is to win the state championship," Stalcup said. "But we’ve got to take it one step at a time and make a lot of little goals: get the plays down, get the formations, win the first scrimmage, win the first game, win the second game.
"If we accomplish all these goals day by day, it’s going to build into something like the state championship."