CONCORD, Mass. -- Things are on the rise with Concord-Carlisle football.
A few years ago, a young Patriots team took their lumps. But those learning experiences translated into a historic season in 2010, when C-C made its first Super Bowl appearance since 1978. Although the Patriots fell short of their ultimate goal, taking a thumping at the hands of Duxbury, 35-13, C-C is reloaded for 2011 with 14 starters returning from the squad that walked off the Gillette Stadium field.
"In the offseason, guys were really working hard," C-C head coach Mike Robichaud said. "I think it's a pretty dutiful and a focused group. It starts with our three senior captains, too. They're good kids, they're good students and they're good players. I think it's a group that still feels that there's something to prove. I don't think they're about to put the cart before the horse."
The commitment to finishing off what they started last season has been enforced by the Patriots' three senior captains -- Henry Bumpus, George Craan and Thomas Kleyn.
Craan, for one, committed himself to an extensive offseason training program that should scare DCL Small defenders from Arlington to Weston. The running back has put on an additional 15 pounds to his 5-foot, 11-inch frame and plans to play at around 210 pounds.
"I want to top last year," said Craan, who led all of Division 2A with 24 touchdowns in 2010. "Last year's in the past, it's history. But I just want to have a better year. I'm bigger, faster … Hopefully, that'll help."
The Metco student from Boston spent his offseason working out with his C-C teammates, bulking up and looking to improve on his 1,914-yard performance last year. A lofty goal, certainly, but Craan's also hoping to alter his running style some.
"He was more of a buzz downfield type of runner," Robichaud said, "but now he wants to run some people over this year and take it up to the next level."
Not only has Craan upped his focus, he will be running behind an experienced line. Six-foot, 245-pound center Andrew VanderWilden is the catalyst for the line that also returns Trevor Castrichini, Tom Gregory, Owen Guttaduaro and Kleyn, in addition to Bumpus at tight end.
"Our linemen are fast," said Craan, who has received interest from BC and UConn in addition to a host of FCS schools, "we don't have any fat, slow guys. We have linemen who can get out and move. We have big, experienced, smart, fast guys. And they're aggressive."
All that's left is to get out on the field and do it, although that sometimes can be a problem for the excitable Craan, who's known around C-C as much for his chronic forgetfulness as his highlight-reel runs.
"He's a ready-fire-aim-type guy sometimes," said Robichaud, laughing about Craan's absent-mindedness. "But, in all seriousness, he's a terrific kid and some of his forgetfulness is really kind of endearing. He's such an excited, enthusiastic kid that sometimes, literally, he'll forget where his helmet is on the way out to practice."
Rest assured, he'll be ready for the Patriots' opening challenge against Beverly, the defending Division 3 Super Bowl champions.
"We just have to do it out on the field," Craan said.
CONCORD-CARLISLE AT A GLANCE
Coach: Mike Robichaud (3rd season, 18-7)
Last Year: 10-3 (Lost to Duxbury in Division 2A Super Bowl)
Key Returnees: George Craan, Sr. RB/DB, 5-11, 210; Henry Bumpus, Sr. TE/DE, 6-6, 200; Andrew VanderWilden, Sr. C/DL, 6-0, 245; Thomas Kleyn, Sr. OL/ILB, 5-10, 200; Evan Boynton, Sr. E/OLB, 6-0, 175; Jackson Finigan, Sr. SE/DB, 6-1, 175.
Strengths: Running game, run defensed.
Weaknesses: Passing game, pass defense.
Outlook: Robichaud is straight forward when assessing the Patriots' strengths and weaknesses. And they would be apparent to anybody who watched C-C in last year's D2A Super Bowl against Duxbury. While the Patriots were able to move the ball on the ground with Craan, they were simply overmatched defensively by the Dragons' sophisticated aerial attack. This year, Robichaud said his staff has taken upon themselves to mix things up on offense and make sure their responsibilities are covered against the pass. "It's up to me to make sure that we're addressing those things during the week," Robichaud said. "I'm a little more conservative by nature, so I have to have a little bit more trust in our guys that we can go to the pass in some situations that we haven't in the past." Don't be surprised even to see Craan flexed out of the backfield in some passing situations. Senior Ryan Hoey goes under center, taking over for Peter George. The Patriots will again be strong in the trenches with nose tackle Jack Donovan returning. Bumpus is primed to have a huge season at defensive end after hanging some extra weight on his 6-6 frame. Fellow tri-captain, Kleyn, is the defensive quarterback at inside linebacker. "We want to take pride in the fact that we won our league and won a playoff game for the first time in a long time," Robichaud said. "But we want to get back to that place."