This isn't going to be last year's Mansfield squad. There's no standout in the backfield like Jamel Marshall. Heck, there's not going a big target like tight end Jeff Hill for George Busharis to throw to. Defensive stalwarts Anthony Tedesco and Kyle McGuire have graduated as well.
Still, the sixth-ranked Hornets, the defending Division 2 Eastern Mass Super Bowl champions, don't so much rebuild as they reload. And, while they might not have the breakout star power, head coach Mike Redding feels his team has strength in numbers.
"We might not have someone like Jamel [Marshall] this year," Redding said, "but we return six of our seven running backs from last year. So we have skill at that position and experience."
As much as the Hornets' complexion may have changed, they return a standout at the most important position on the field. Busharis, the 6-foot-3 signal-caller, made great strides last season as a relatively raw junior.
"We knew we were going to be able to run the ball with Jamel and we'd be a more ball-control type of team," Redding said. "George struggled some at JV, but right from the start last year, he had poise and confidence. You couldn't rattle him and once he got a hold of the offense, he really blossomed into good quarterback."
Redding will look for the same kind of transformation this year with running backs Blayne Kelley-Taylor (an Easter Connecticut lacrosse commit) and fellow senior captain Greg Donahue. While neither is the every-down back like Marshall, but have plenty of speed to burn and the impetus for the offense will be getting the ball to the backs in space.
"We're not expecting them to run between the tackles and pound the ball like Jamel did," Redding said. "But what they can do with their speed gives us some options, whether it's giving them the ball on pitches, screen passes or off the wing"
Similarly, the Hornets will not overwhelm opponents with their size on defense, but Redding will take his group over others any day.
"Size is a little overrated," he said. "Speed and strength and coming on the filed with a bunch of 6-2 linemen is one thing. Our kids are more the 5-9 sort, but they're strong and they put in their work in the weight room."
It all plays into Mansfield's mentality. It's like the gigantic Incredible Hulk mural that is painted on the wall of Mansfield High's gym. Although they are the Hornets by nickname, the defending Hockomock League champions have embodied a playing style akin to Dr. Bruce Banner's alter ego.
MANSFIELD AT A GLANCE
2010: 12-1 (Won Division 2 Eastern Mass Super Bowl)
Coach: Mike Redding (23rd season, 187-59-4)
Players to watch: George Busharis, Sr. QB/DB, 6-3, 185; Blayne Kelley-Taylor, Sr. RB/DB, 5-8, 160; Zach Schafer, Sr. LB, 6-1, 195; Nick Chiocco, Sr. TE/DE, 6-2, 230; Dylan Finerty, Sr. FB/LB, 6-0, 195; Nick Leonard, Sr. OL/LB, 5-11, 205; Greg Donahue, Sr. RB/DB, 5-8, 165.
Strengths: Depth at running back, experience at quarterback.
Weakness: Lack of experience in secondary.