WESTERLY — Westerly High's football team returns a group of talented and experienced offensive linemen this season.
Finding skill-position players who can take advantage of the offensive line's abilities may determine how the season goes.
"We built everything around our O-line," said coach Duane Maranada, who is in his fourth and final season as coach. "We expect to have movement off the ball and have the lines open up some holes. How those guys play will determine how our games go."
Maranda is now a part-time athletic administrator at the Prout School. A condition of accepting that job was he resign as Westerly's coach after this season.
Junior Eric Whewell is a returning All-State player on the line. He will be joined by returning starters Trent Lamb, Mike Garafola and Nick Lauzon at tight end. Jared Keszyinki, Connnor Martin and Xavier Webster will also see time on the line.
Westerly averaged 9.3 yards per carry last season, rushed for 70 touchdowns and ran the ball 94 percent of the time from its single wing offense.
This season, the offense may become more balanced. Maranda said the opponent will still drive the game plan, but passing the ball may be more of an option.
Junior Xavier Ledbetter has the ability to throw and run.
"He's a very dynamic player. He can really make some wow plays," Maranda said. "He can make people miss. He spins the ball better than any quarterback I've ever had. But he's young and inexperienced. It's a work in progress."
Joe Fusaro and Anthony Durante, a captain, are the wide receivers. Rocco Cillino, Derek Mason, both captains, and Aaron Perez will get carries in the Westerly backfield. Alex Sisco is the blocking or H back.
Cillino, who ran for 429 yards and six touchdowns, is the top returning rusher. Westerly graduated 3,562 rushing yards, including Tristan Turano's 1,854 and 35 TDs.
Defensively, the Bulldogs return some experience in the secondary and at linebacker, but also have some holes to fill, including All-State defensive end Josh Lacerte.
Mason returns for his third season at linebacker. He will be joined by Sisco, Markus Chim, and Mason's younger brother, Drew.
Up front, Whewell, Lamb, Judea Balmonte, Keszyinki, Martin and Garafola will all play.
Cillino returns for his third season in the secondary, and Durante is back for his second year. They will run the show.
Fusaro and Ledbetter are the corners. Rodriguez will also see time there.
"You really want to be solid up the middle," Maranda said. "We have Derek, Anthony and Rocco there to make sure we are lined up properly. Defensive football is about getting lined up properly and executing your technique. We want to get lined up, attack downhill and run to the football."
Chad Mayne will be the kicker, and Rodriguez the punter.
Last season, Westerly finished 9-2, losing in the D-II semifinals by a point to eventual champion Woonsocket.
Westerly's goals remain the same: come together as a family, be accountable in the classroom, have a winning division record, earn a home playoff game and be in position to make a run in the postseason.
"I think we've raised the expectations, and we hope to live up to that standard," Maranda said.
Maranda expects Division II-B to be very competitive this season with any of the other teams — Burrillville, Mt. Hope, Mount Pleasant, Coventry and Middletown — capable of winning the league.
Westerly hosts Chariho on Friday at 7 p.m. in a nonleague season opener for both teams.