New London - When Casey Paris and Curt Barrett were freshmen, the captain of the Coast Guard Academy football team was right tackle Justin Brooks, a native of Georgetown, Texas, who always had a smile on his face off the field and a scowl for the Bears' opponents.
"He was one of those alpha males, leader-of-the-pack type of individuals," Coast Guard senior tight end Casey Paris said. "We wanted ourselves to be a person like that."
This year's captains, Paris and inside linebacker Curt Barrett, have both been four-year starters for the Bears. Not that they started thinking about being good leaders way back when they were freshmen.
"Playing linebacker as a freshman seems so far away," Barrett said. "I was just thinking about playing well. And passing my classes."
"I had so much on my plate," said Paris, who caught four touchdowns as a freshman, including the game-winner with 32 seconds remaining in a Parents' Weekend victory over Westfield State. "I was focused on doing my job and not screwing up and keeping my starting position."
Today, Paris and Barrett, along side the other Coast Guard seniors, begin their final season with the Bears' rivalry game against Merchant Marine, scheduled for 2:30 p.m. at Cadet Memorial Field in New London.
It will be Barrett's job to help stop the Merchant Marine triple-option offense and Paris' job to help lead the offense which will take on a slightly different look under smooth-passing senior quarterback Jon Resch.
The Bears are looking to avenge a 35-28 loss to Merchant Marine last season, which the Mariners claimed with eight seconds left in regulation on a 32-yard touchdown catch by Chase Dunn.
Coast Guard finished 2-7 a year ago, 2-5 in the New England Football Conference Bogan Division, but with five losses by seven points or fewer, four in the final minute. The Bears return 16 starters.
"I feel like we're really confident, it's been a great bond," said Paris, asked to assess where things are heading into the season-opener. "Everybody has that good chemistry together. We're trying to take it to where you forget about everything else except why you play the game in the first place. Me and Curt will say whetever's on the top of our head."
"It's definitely an honor," said Barrett of being chosen a captain by his peers. "There's so many guys that can easily fill that role. ... Guys here already have leadership skills; it's just applying them."
Because Paris, who is from East Tawakoni, Texas, attended New Mexico Military Institute prior to Coast Guard and Barrett, from Bremen, Ga., came straight from high school, the two arrived at Coast Guard with their own sets of friends.
But since they became acquainted?
"It's been downhill from there," Barrett said with a laugh.
Merchant Marine is 0-1, having lost last week's opener to Susquehanna, 37-21, with Susquehanna scoring 27 points in the fourth quarter. Merchant Marine led the Liberty League with 239.4 rushing yards per game last season.
Paris spoke of what the rivalry game with Merchant Marine means to him: "When you try to sleep you kind of toss and turn around your bed a little bit. You try to stay humble. You kind of got to pace it out just right or you'll be out of gas when it comes down to it.
"We tell the guys at practice this week, 'Keep the coals burning, keep the coals burning, but don't light the fire just yet.' (Merchant Marine) is like the kid across the street that keeps throwing rocks at you."