By Tommy Keeler Jr. -- firstname.lastname@example.org
WINCHESTER -- Millbrook endured a tough season last year, with a very young team. This year there's a much brighter outlook for the Pioneers, who return 10 starters on offense and eight on defense.
Millbrook coach Reed Prosser said having all that experience has definitely helped in preseason.
"The kids have worked really, really hard," Prosser said. "They understand what we're asking of them and that's the biggest thing. Obviously, with a large group of seniors, they're experienced in terms of being in our program and know our expectations."
Senior Justin Neff is back at quarterback, and now that he's got a year of experience under him as a starter, he's much more comfortable in the role.
Last year Neff threw for 993 yards and five touchdowns.
Neff will have plenty of receivers to throw to. The only starter the Pioneers lost on offense was tight end Boomer Kaczmarzewski, but they moved receiver Tre White to tight end.
They have Adrian DeNeal back at receiver, with Rze Culbreath expected to see more time there this season as well. T.J. Bruce has also transferred from James Wood.
Bruce, DeNeal and White combined for 53 receptions for 653 yards and three touchdowns last year.
Neff said he loves having such a strong group of receivers to throw to.
"It's really nice having some receivers that I can trust, that are going to catch it," Neff said. "It's just fun at practice. I roll out and throw it and they'll catch it. It's just pitch-and-catch, like you're playing in the backyard, just back-and-forth. It's just fun."
The Pioneers bring back their entire offensive line, led by A.J. Bolden, who has verbally committed to play at the University of Buffalo.
"We do well traditionally at Millbrook, when our kids understand what we're asking them to do," Prosser said. "They understand the concepts. Any time you have an experienced group, especially up front, it just makes life a lot easier for everybody."
Millbrook also returns the running back combination of Jordan Anderson and Logan Rodeffer.
The pair combined for 1,074 yards and 10 touchdowns last season.
The biggest losses Millbrook suffered to graduation came at special teams, where they lost punter Kaczmarzewski and place kicker Derek Davis. Neff and Culbreath will share punting duties, while sophomore Tyler Gray takes over at kicker.
Bolden is expected to lead Millbrook's defensive front, along with Jonathan Crowley.
The strength of the Pioneers' defense should come at linebacker, where Aidan Lewis and Devon Sharp return. Lewis led the team with 107 tackles last year.
The secondary will also be solid with Culbreath, Bruce, D.J. Frisby and DeNeal leading the way.
Millbrook has good reason to have high expectations, but Prosser said even with all the experience the team still has to go out and get it done on the field.
"Football is about mistakes," Prosser said. "If you take care of the football and don't make mistakes you usually do well. We're fortunate to have an experienced group. We certainly have some goals set, but it's about executing. If we can execute and take care of the football then I like our chances. If we make mistakes then we're not going to be successful."