There was about 20 minutes before practice began on the Clean Harbors Stadium practice field as head coach Jeremy Cameron greeted every player heading in and out of the locker room.

Sitting on an orange cooler in the dank hallways of Massachusetts Maritime Academy’s athletic center, Cameron high-fived some players, asked many more how they were holding up, and handed everyone a Gatorade protein shake, containing 400-500 necessary calories to withstand the late-summer midday heat.

“All of our freshman have cadet training during the day, so we have to make sure their energy is up,” Cameron said.

The mood was light, especially considering the regimented reputation of the school, as the relationship between head coach and player appeared more as an older brother than militant drill sergeant. In his 15th year as the Buccaneers head football coach, there is good reason for Cameron to feel slightly at ease—a relaxed confidence, even. After losing only three key players from last year’s 2-8 team, MMA football finds itself in uncharted territory: they have veteran experience.

“If you look on our defense, we have eight or nine guys who played a lot of football for us last year,” Cameron said. “Offensively, we’re pretty much in the same boat with nearly every position getting veterans back. We got, what we feel is, a really strong group of veterans guys. We’re just not that deep, so that’s were the underclassmen come in.”

What is returning is the teeth of the Buccaneer defense, a unit that gave up an average of 14.5 points per game in the final four games of the 2018 season. Returning are junior defensive lineman Colin McCabe (Dartmouth) and senior lineman Kyle Johnston (Raynham). The two combined for 24 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks last season. Add senior captain Erik Marchant (East Bridgewater) and that can be a nightmare for opposing teams. Often taking on multiple blockers, the defensive trio allows free releases and open gaps for linebackers Sean Smialiek (Dartmouth) and Jack Fontana (Grafton), who combined for 122 tackles and 7.5 sacks last year.

“I think we’re going to be better than ever this year,” Johnston said. “I think we have a chance to be a really strong defensive unit, especially on the defensive line. It all starts there and everything else falls in line.”

On the offensive side of the ball, incumbent quarterback Ty Ebdon (Gales Ferry, Connecticut) won’t have leading receiver from 2018 in Paul Sances, but will look to senior Will Bennett (Sandwich) more this fall. Bennett hauled in 20 receptions for 317 yards and four touchdowns last year.

But Ebdon will be pushed at the quarterback position this year. Senior Matt Long (Weymouth) was the team’s second-leading rusher last year, amassing 403 yards and tied for the team lead in rushing scores with five. This year, however, he’s listed at quarterback as Cameron envisions Long bringing a level of dynamism to the offense. Junior John Teehan (Hyde Park, Massachusetts), who shined of the baseball diamond for the Bucs and earned a spot on the Harwich Mariners’ starting rotation this summer, will also get a shot at some reps under center.

“We’re unique at quarterback this year. Ebdon got the majority of the playing time, but there were three other guys who saw plays at quarterback,” Cameron said. “Matt served as wildcat-type quarterback at the end of the season, due to some injuries, and he actually showed us something that we wanted to add in this year. I think we’re going to be in good shape there.”

In two games played last year, Teehan completed 40.6 percent of his passes (13-for-32) for 187 yards, connecting on two TDs and being intercepted twice.

The team’s leading rusher, Benjamin Sheehan, graduated early as the Bucs lost out on his team-high 496 rushing yards and five scores from last year. That leaves a young but athletic backfield of Conner Reynolds (Norton), who rushed for 74 yards in nine games played last year, and a bunch of freshman and sophomores who have little collegiate experience. To counteract that, the Buccaneers will rely on a veteran offensive line unit that arrived fully in tact from last year.

Led by center Victor Ramirez (New Britain, Connecticut) and lineman James Cooke (Wrentham), both senior captains, the Bucs’ o-line boast five seniors, including Hunter Jacques (Peabody), Zachary Weidenhof (Manahawkin, New Jersey), and Robbie Sears (Medway, Massachusetts).

“We’re bringing back a solid senior group on the line that’s built up a lot of chemistry over the years. We all know how to play and how to step in unison with one another,” Ramirez said.

MMA also brings back its second-team All-MASCAC punter in George Lampros (Bridgewater).

The Bucs open the season with two big out-of-conference rivalry games—at home against SUNY Maritime for the 12th annual Chowder Bowl on Friday, September 13, at 7 PM; and The 47th Admiral’s Cup against Maine Maritime on the road September 21.

They then open up their conference schedule on the road against Westfield State on September 28 before returning to Buzzards Bay on October 5 for their homecoming game against Worcester State at noon. Other home games include October 19 against Fitchburg State and on November 2 against Framingham State. MMA concludes its regular season on November 16, welcoming Bridgewater State to the Cape for the 41st annual Cranberry Bowl at noon. The game will also serve as Senior Day for the Bucs.

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