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New London — The year-to-year changes for the Coast Guard Academy football team come out of necessity at a place, where, as head coach Bill George described Saturday on the first day of practice, "the tail doesn't wag the dog."
Last year's quarterback for instance, 6-foot-1, 220-pound Jarrod Owens, could bowl guys over on his way to the end zone, rushing for seven touchdowns, invigorating his team with toughness.
This year's quarterback, Jon Resch, who is 6-0, 190 pounds, already holds Coast Guard career records for yards (469), completions (34) and touchdown passes (6) in a single game, a feat he accomplished in 2009 against Maine Maritime Academy, when he was just a freshman.
George and his staff adjust to the personnel, unlike they do at bigger programs where they run the same offense and defense year after year, plugging in bruising fullbacks and gigantic defensive linemen.
"Next year, you don't have a Jon Resch, so you change things. You have to be able to change," said George, beginning his 14th season. "You have to be able to go with the flow. You have to do things differently than at any other place in America. We have learned to adapt."
"It makes it a blast," senior co-captain and linebacker Curt Barrett said. "You know the coaches are working hard in the offseason."
Coast Guard was 2-7 overall last season, losing five games by seven points or fewer, four in the final minute. The Bears were 2-5 in the New England Football Conference Bogan Division and picked to finish seventh this year in the Bogan.
Coast Guard opens this season Sept. 8 at home against rival Kings Point, enough time, as Barrett pointed, to "tweak it, find out what's working and what's not."
It was fellow senior captain Casey Paris, a tight end from Texas, who took the lead Saturday in the first huddle of the year.
"We want to try to bring back Southern twang. All or nothing," Paris said moments before, using former Bears linebacker Ben Barrett, Curt's brother, as a prime example.
"It was all or nothing with him," Paris said of Ben Barrett. "He was insane. Mentally insane for the game of football, but he still knew how to play it with proper accuracy. ... We have to put it all on the line."
Coast Guard returns 16 starters, seven on offense, including four returning linemen, and nine on defense.
Returning to the line are Mike Rauch, Jacob Bibb, Jed Daleiden and Mike Vitrano, who join a talented offense which includes running back Tyler Hames (683 yards, 7 TD) and receivers Pat Meggers, Collis Brown, Blake Thompson and Paris.
On defense, Curt Barrett led the team with 65 tackles last season, 11.5 for a loss and three sacks, while fellow linebacker Parker Bateson was second with 57 tackles. John Manganiello, at noseguard, was a first team All-Bogan Division pick. Drew Russo, Mark Bonner, Dante Adams and Evan Rothfeld return to the secondary.
Coast Guard actually led opponents in scoring last year, 28.6-28.3 points per game, despite its losing record.
"You wouldn't do that at a lot of places, guys would quit on you," George said. "That's to their credit.
"... You sit down and think, 'What can we do? What are our strengths? What can we do with quick, aggressive people?' Sometimes when you take what the people have done for 100 years in football; we want to do something different."