Jeff Cormier has built a legitimate power program at Auburn, but faces the largest rebuilding job of his storied career this season.
Well, to say rebuilding isn't really fair, because the Rockets have simply reloaded over the last half-decade. Five consecutive Central Mass. Super Bowl titles and a 41-game winning streak that stretch from 2008-2011 are evidence of that, but this year the Rockets are undergoing a facelift unlike any team in the Commonwealth.
Auburn returns star offensive and defensive tackle Will Greelish and...That's it.
Ten other starters on each side of the ball must be found, and Cormier has declared an open competition for all spots. Despite losing nearly the entirety of one of Central Mass' all-time best teams, Cormier insists this year is no different than any other.
"We just want to get better every day in the preseason, like every other team in the state," Cormier said. "There's always new guys coming in and sometimes you have more new guys than not. This year we have some guys that have played, but we need to get them some more varsity experience."
While Cormier knows that Greelish can't do everything, the ESPN Boston Preseason All-State selection is not a bad place to start when building a team. With preseason hype coming into the season, and a seeming need to elevate the play of his teammates, the 6-foot-4, 325-pound Greelish still insists he is going to play within himself.
"I’m just going to play my game," Greelish said. "(Recognition) is nice but it isn’t going to change the way I play. It’s going to be fun."
Among those needing to be replaced are ESPN Boston All-State offensive lineman Aaron Dyke and star running back Tyler Desjardins, Central Mass' third leading rusher from a year ago. The offensive line again looks capable, with Greelish holding down the right tackle spot and a plethora of newcomers filling in, while the backfield is still up in the air. Running back Mark Wright didn't get a ton of touches last season, but when he did he was effective, averaging 8.3 yards per carry.
Still, Cormier says nothing is set in stone, and whoever has the hot hand on game day will carry the majority of the rushing load. The picture is even murkier at quarterback, where senior Mike Thomas returns to compete with lefty freshman Steven Saucier. Those two got all the reps during Auburn's first full-pads practice on Thursday, with Saucier getting a few more snaps with the first team. Both looked poised and solid on roll-out passes, but Cormier insists that senior Adam Gustafson and sophomore Connor Scully will also get a chance to win the job.
As for defense, look for Greelish to be featured prominently on that line as well. The Rockets plan to feature a "heavy" package that will consist of five defensive linemen -- with Greelish in the center playing nose -- and three linebackers. While Auburn does lose some size and experience from last season, it may be hard to notice for opposing teams as they run into that wall in short yardage situations.
AUBURN AT A GLANCE
Coach: Jeff Cormier (15th year, 128-40 overall)
Last Season: 13-0, Won Div. 3 Central Super Bowl.
Returning Starters: 1 (Will Greelish started on both sides)
Key Returnees: Will Greelish, Sr. OT/DT, Mark Wright, Jr. RB/DB, Khan Bakhtyr Sheirn, Sr. LB, Andrew Markvenas, Sr. FB/LB.
Strengths: Toughness, a culture of winning and talent on both lines.
Weaknesses: Extreme inexperience and depth (so far)
Overview: If this were any other program in Central Mass, a down year would be expected, but this is Auburn. The Rockets will again be the CMass favorites in their division, and the disciplined approach Cormier instills in his group has worked so well over the years, that a complete reload is almost expected at this point. That's not to say the Rockets don't have talent. Running back Mark Wright has all the makings of a break out star this season, and both lines will be built around one of the best players in the state. The major concern for Auburn will be depth. We know Cormier will turn some young guys into players, but can he create enough depth to survive a season that Auburn hopes will include multiple playoff games?