Souhegan ready to take next step

There aren’t many guarantees in high school sports, but no matter what happens, any team will experience a complete roster turnover every four years.

The Souhegan football team seemed to go through it all at once when Mike Lochman took over as head coach before the 2013 season. This year, the Sabers are making up for it.

Several starters return, including 10 of 11 on defense, a far cry from the first season for Lochman, when just one starter was back on both sides of the ball.

"We’re not taking that for granted," he said. "We’re really doing the opposite. We’re leaning on these guys with increased expectations. We’re telling them just because you guys are all back and you were relatively successful doesn’t mean anything."

It didn’t a year ago, when Souhegan had a good year, finishing with a 5-3 record – with its only losses coming to conference foes Windham, Milford and Trinity – but ultimately the Sabers had nothing to show for it in terms of the postseason.

This year that could be different, and not just because Souhegan has improved, but also because the NHIAA changed the playoff format. Now, more than just two teams from a single conference can make the tournament, and had that been the case a year ago, the Sabers would have been there.

"There’s even more of a fire there because they know the chance is better than last year," Lochman said. "We really believe that our conference is very, very tough. One slip up against somebody that you should beat or could have beat, that can hurt."

Souhegan could go into the year with just two captains – Mike Mancini and Nick Truchon – but both were in the same role as juniors and Lochman is confident in their abilities to lead the team.

"We only had three captains last year and two of them were juniors, so that’s been a huge asset," the coach said. "There’s a couple of other guys who have stepped up, so right now, we’re contemplating whether we spring a vote on the guys before the season begins to see if we have an additional guy."

With Mancini putting in a lot of work at quarterback in the offseason, along with the potential emergence of receivers Brendan Cray and Zach Bossi, the Sabers’ offense could end being more balanced than it had been the last couple of years. If not, then Souhegan will be able to lean on backs Cam Kinney and Jon Nogueria running behind a line that returns Truchon, Aaron Stonebreaker and Blake Karavas.

"We told Mike (Mancini) at the start of official camp that our intent was to lean on the passing game this season," Lochman said. "But it all depends on how well those things come together. We certainly have the potential to demonstrate more balance. I think we always could have been balanced, but the guys we had last year, we were just better as a running team."

Tucker Aiello is back at linebacker on defense after leading Souhegan in tackles as a sophomore, and he’s joined by Matt Blood and Truchon, both of whom started at linebacker last season. The Sabers have 10 starters back on the defensive side of the ball.

"We’re in good shape," Lochman said. "Sometimes you get into one of those lucky phases where you bring back a bunch of guys who have started and been there. The leadership has been really good this year, in terms of hitting the ground running and setting expectations and making things easier."