Maconaquah’s football team looks to take a major step forward after posting a modest gain last season with a large group of returning regulars from a 3-8 squad.
“Short of the five seniors we graduated last year, we basically have the same team intact,” Mac coach Mark Hartman said. “We know what we’re getting and, finally, we feel like we’ve got kids who are experienced and have played for us so long. We’ve got guys who have actually got game experience.“We feel like we’ve finally hit our stride in what we want to do in strength and conditioning. You pair that with the experience, and that’s a great combination.”Hartman thinks this year’s Braves squad will be more adept at imposing its will.“I think running the football is something we’re going to hang our hat on,” he said. “We have a very experienced offensive line. We have a 900-yard rusher back from last year, with an experienced quarterback who has started 16 games for us.“The thing that we’ve really worked on is our defense. I’m very happy with the changes that we’ve made. I think we’re a much more physical football team than we’ve been in the past.”On the other hand, Hartman said the passing game needs the most work. Getting the timing right to click smoothly will take more time.“Formation-wise, we’re going to be multiple,” Hartman said of the offense. “We run a wide-open set, and we like to get in the 'I' and do some things out of that as well.”The offensive line features senior center Caleb Hunt (5-foot-11, 185 pounds), senior left guard Stuart Walsh (6-0, 255), sophomore right guard Mason Silvers (5-10, 190), senior left tackle Matt Smith (6-1, 255) and junior right tackle Ben Stephensen (6-4, 280). Stephensen is entering his third year as a starter, while Smith, Walsh and Hunt are two-year starters.Senior Kyle Dinn (6-0, 190) returns to the QB spot after throwing for 989 yards last season. Junior Josh Fewell (6-2, 210) and sophomore Trent Armstrong (5-11, 210) are clashing for the fullback spot. Third-year starter Cody Hicks (6-1, 175, 892 yards rushing) is the tailback.Four-year starter K.J. Walton (6-3, 185, 259 yards receiving last season) is a wideout along with second-year starter Trevor Hagan (5-9, 150) and junior Nathan Robinson (5-10, 140). Junior Jesse Scott (6-1, 170) is the tight end.The Braves’ defense features some major changes, as well as age-related benefits.“The experience is coming through, along with we’ve gotten stronger,” Hartman said. “We do have some size up front; we’re pretty happy with that. I think we’re a legit 260 [pounds on average] on our defensive line. And I think our secondary is very well experienced.“Along with that we are switching our defense, from a standard four [up front] to a 3-5. With the personnel we have now, that gives us the best advantage.”Stephenson has the nose spot with Walsh and Smith the defensive tackles. Scott and Fewell are hybrids, who line up at defensive end or move back to play linebacker.The linebackers are Armstrong, Silvers and Hunt. In the secondary are cornerbacks Hagan and Robinson, and Walton at safety. Also, senior Austin Darnell (5-11, 150) will see time at cornerback, and Hicks will see time at safety. Senior Joerge Cortez (5-7, 132) is the place kicker. Walton will handle kickoffs. Hicks and Walton will return.“We think we’re much improved in all aspects of the game — offensively, defensively and special teams,” Hartman said. “We expect to be more physical.”