WOOD RIVER JCT. — One year after rebuilding from a Division II Super Bowl winning team, the Chariho High football team seems to be in rebuilding mode again.
The Chargers lost six seniors who earned Division II-A honors, including All-State running back Austin McQuaide, and will try to improve upon a 4-7 campaign with a very young roster.
Chariho coach Mike Kelly has only six seniors who are expected to contribute to the varsity team while 21 juniors will likely see varsity action.
“We’re very young. I think we have a total of 28 juniors on the roster and we had 33 freshmen come out for the team which was astronomically better than last year when we had six freshman,” Kelly said.
While all the young blood might bode well for the Chargers’ future, it could mean some growing pains, at least at the start of the season.
Fortunately for Chariho, Kelly expressed confidence that his quarterback play should be solid for 2013.
“Jake Rousseau has really improved,” he said. “His confidence level is so much higher and that happened over the summer at a tournament at Moses Brown.
“Jake struggled a little bit down the stretch last year but he’s really learned how to read a defense and he understands more about what we’re doing and what route everybody needs to run on a given play.”
Rousseau, a junior, took only a few snaps under center for the varsity team in 2012.
Another position of strength for Chariho appears at running back.
Junior Sal DeSantis, who backed up and spelled McQuaide in 2012, looks to be the workhorse among five possible contributors but is currently battling a minor injury.
Juniors Adam Harvey, Jake Whan and Blake James, and senior John LaMotte will all get a shot at halfback.
“The intriguing part is at some point we’ll need to figure out how each piece fits,” Kelly said. “We should be able rotate in fresh bodies and hopefully we won’t rely too much on one guy.”
Traditionally, the Chariho offensive line has been one of the bigger lines in Division II but that will change a little in 2013.
“We’re not big by any stretch. We’re a little more athletic and active though,” Kelly said. “We still have good size and we’ll be able to make technique adjustments other guys can’t do.
“There are still fundamental things I believe in offensively and we’ll still do those things. We’re not going to get away from the I-formation.”
Senior captains Matt Heroux and Dylan Gencarella will anchor the line.
The wide receivers are a bit greener than the rest of the offense with three newcomers but Kelly said junior Tyler Bobbin has already shown flashes in practice.
Shane Stewart and captain Matt Gooding will play at tight end.
As it was in 2012, the 2013 defensive line will feature a lot of rotation in order to keep two-way players like Gooding and Gencarella fresh.
One of those two-way players is newcomer Zack Briggs, a junior whom Kelly said might be the biggest surprise of the offseason.
“He really took to it and will probably start this Friday (vs. Narragansett). It’s great to have a kid just walk on the team and immediately help out,” he said.
Kelly said he hopes that his defensive line can help be a stabilizing force on his defense.
“The line has been the most consistent part of our defense so far. Hopefully, it can kind of pick it up and help the linebackers get settled,” he said.
The loss of McQuaide and Stallion Collins to graduation means that the linebackers have gone from the most veteran part of Chariho’s defense in 2012 to the most inexperienced group in 2013.
The secondary is the most experienced group with three returning players in Caleb McQuaide, Whan and James.
The young Chargers will have to learn quickly if they want to make noise in an always tough Division II-A.
“Mt. Hope is the first team you point to when you think of a team that could be the class of the division,” Kelly said. “They were a playoff team last year and they have a lot of returning players.
“Johnston always seems to have athletes. Woonsocket’s been good every year I’ve been here and Westerly is solid year in and year out.
“I think the playoff (spots) will go right down to the wire. I don’t see anyone running away with it, the division is too deep.”
There are eight teams in Division II-A. The top four qualify. The same is true for Division II-B.
Division II-B champion Cumberland won the D-II Super Bowl.
Kelly said he expects his team to be one of the many in the division vying for a playoff spot by the end of the season.
“Teams need a challenge and a focus,” he said. “They need to know that we’re all out here trying to win. Part of what helps as a program is the goal is always the same every year and that’s to make the playoffs. That may be more realistic some years than others but that’s always what we’re shooting for.”