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New London - In the early afternoon, prior to the first Coast Guard Academy football practice of the season back in August, head coach Bill George was watching film with the offensive linemen.
Meanwhile, starting quarterback Derek Victory was milling around the coaches' offices in shower shoes.
Last year at this time? Victory, plus three of the five current starting linemen were still entrenched in Swab Summer as incoming freshmen, not even yet given their shoulder boards as full-fledged cadets. Victory was to start the season as the fourth-string quarterback.
"Everybody's more comfortable," senior wide receiver Collis Brown said at Wednesday's weekly football luncheon, speaking of a team that's a year older. "It's a game where you have to rely on the guy next to you. Having so many people back adds a certain level of comfort.
"Definitely, (Victory's) demeanor ... he's a field general. He's willing to say, 'Yeah, I'm right. You're supposed to be over here.' It makes everything run more smoothly."
The Bears, who open the season at 1 p.m. Saturday against St. Lawrence at Cadet Memorial Field, return a total of 20 starters from last season's team which finished 3-7 overall, 3-4 in the New England Football Conference.
Brown and senior defensive end Aaron Black were first team picks on the USA College Football preseason All-America team, while Victory started the final seven games of last season and earned the NEFC's Offensive Rookie of the Year award.
Junior strong safety Joe Rizzardi earned a Division III Gold Helmet award last season after returning two interceptions for touchdowns in a Sept. 28 win over Nichols.
"A different planet," George, also the offensive line coach, said of starting the season with four of his five linemen returning. "It's exciting to be able to talk to the linemen in meetings. To be able to take it to the next level of terminology and technique, it's been a big thing."
George still wants to make sure the Bears know they can't win anything by what's on paper.
"Being an older team, we know our chances to win are high," said senior linebacker Victor Rizzardi, selected to captain the team along with Brown. "But we've been stressing that, that victory is earned. ... We're not the biggest or fastest team; we've got to earn it."
"We're excited about the opportunity and the fact that we have each other," Brown said. "We know it's only an opportunity; we haven't been given anything."
Still, Rizzardi said it's not hard to tell the difference in the way the defense reacts to certain situations, such as an audible or a check. There's not as much hesitation as there has been in the past.
Victory, for his part, finished the season 182-for-313 passing for 1,686 yards with 10 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He set a Coast Guard record with 36 completions in a 41-38 win over Western New England in just the second start of his career.
"I just think he's a quarterback," George said. "He's not a loud rah-rah guy. He's a serious football guy.
"... It's hard for me to decipher what we got out of (last weekend's scrimmage) because we treat it more like a practice. But we have guys back and we have guys that are older."
• Brendan McNeil of Pawcatuck, a New London High School graduate, is listed in Coast Guard's two-deep (depth chart) for this week at linebacker. McNeil is a sophomore who is 6-foot-1, 225 pounds.
"He's big and fast and he's running well," George said of McNeil, also a member of the Bears' baseball team. "He will be on the football field. ... He's earned his way. He's done everything you can ask for."