It’s a smoother start to season for Souhegan

Mike Lochman is finding he has a little more energy during his second preseason leading the Souhegan High School football team.

There’s a lot less for the head coach to do this time around.

A year ago, Lochman was trying to figure out how he was going to fill 20 starting spots on the varsity team, while also trying to mesh a coaching staff that featured holdovers from the previous staff and coaches he brought with him.

“When I would go home last year, I was exhausted, because we were teaching everything from scratch,” Lochman said. “We were bringing a coaching staff together as well and everything was new. This year, it’s been much easier. The guys came in with a year in the system under their belts. We started so many young kids last year that we were returning a ton of experienced guys. They’ve been able to pick things up much quicker.”

The good news – the Sabers should be much better than that 2-7 record they had a season ago. The bad news – they’ll have to do it in one of the tougher conferences in Division II and without their workhorse from a year ago.

Souhegan will battle with South Conference foes Trinity, Windham, Milford and newcomer Pelham without running back Drew Prescott, who graduated and is continuing his career at Bowdoin College.

Even where the Sabers have holes to fill, Lochman feels good because of the experience so many players gained a year ago.

“Offensively, in a lot of those positions, even where we’re replacing a graduated guy, I think we’re getting an upgrade,” he said. “That’s not disrespect to the guys who graduated, but because of some kids who were injured, they might have been starters anyway, and we lost them through the course of the season. I think we have a chance to be stronger.”

One position that will see a new face is at quarterback, where junior Mike Mancini takes over and gives the Sabers a different dimension because of his smaller size and mobility.

“He’s got really good mobility, and you could look at his stature and think that’s a weakness, but what we’ve tried to develop is his ability to hide the ball and do play action,” Lochman said. “But our core passing offense won’t change that much. If anything, we’ve had to adapt to a different style of receivers that we have. We have a bunch of really good athlete-in-space type receivers. We’ve got a few kids who are more like undersized tailbacks and we can run some screens to them.”

Mancini, one of three captains, will have a backfield with experience behind him, with Cam Kinney moving from fullback to tailback and Jon Nogueria, Tucker Aiello and Tyler Howard also getting in the mix. On the line, the Sabers also return senior George LePage and junior Nick Truchon, both captains, along with Aaron Stonebreaker. Taylor Hobbs started the last half of the season at center, and has a familiarity with Mancini, as both were on the junior varsity to start the year.

“Those guys are crisp and we don’t have to spend a bunch of time on it,” Lochman said. “Having that guy in the middle who is active and can be physical is important. We have one other spot that’s up for grabs and we’re working guys in to see who fits.”

Brendan Cray and Zach Bossi give Souhegan a different look at receiver, as both are smaller but more athletic, and both will be called on on defense to lead the secondary. Howard, Kinney and Aiello will lead the way at linebacker.

“We probably have one of the best secondaries I’ve coached,” Lochman said. “We relied on them (at cornerback), sort of, last year, but they were tinier. They’re not any more, they’ve filled out really well and they’re physical.”

With so much experience returning, Lochman is now looking for the Sabers to build some depth.

“Right now we feel good about our first team and our key subs,” he said. “We have three defensive backs, plus one, or we have five offensive linemen, plus two, and we feel good. But we don’t have a second line or a second secondary. We’ve been trying to build the confidence earlier and build the skill sets.”

Souhegan is hoping it can all add up to a return to its traditional status.

“We definitely took some of what happened last year personally, from a tradition standpoint and a pride standpoint,” Lochman said.

“Right now, what it is is a confidence thing that we’re trying to build. I think we have a lot of guys who were instrumental last year who know we have a much better team and that we’re in a much better position.”