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NEW LONDON, Conn. — Outside the walls of the Coast Guard Academy, there’s little faith in the 2010 Bears’ football team.

One poll, conducted by the coaches of the New England Football Conference, predicts the Bears finish no better than fifth in the Bogan Division. One poll has them finishing their nine-game schedule 0-10.

Coming off a 4-5 season, Coast Guard Academy won’t concern itself with what anyone else thinks when it begins the season today with the Secretaries’ Cup on the line against the Merchant Marine Academy at Cadet Memorial Field (2:30 p.m.).

“We’re aware of what the polls are, and we know what level we’re capable of playing to …,” said senior left guard Paul Gerow. “The outside polls are … somebody else’s opinions.”

There is certainly reason for optimism.

Strong quarterback
Quarterback Jesse Karr returns with second-team All-NEFC honors attached to his name. He became the first quarterback in school history to throw for 300 yards twice in his career en route to 1,640 yards and 13 touchdowns on 141-of-264 passing.

Karr missed most of the final three games of the year with an injury, but another camp under his belt in the no-huddle offense has him confident the team will improve.

Karr’s offensive line is seasoned, but lacks starter experience. There are four new starters, two of whom are seniors. The lone holdover is Gerow, the left guard.

Getting solid play from the line will be crucial, said coach Bill George. George, who is also the position coach for the O-line, said that line’s ability to protect Karr on pass plays will set up the Bears’ running attack.

The Bears won’t expect Gerow to carry the weight of the entire line.

“You can’t put much pressure on a player to take charge of a group,” George said. “I’ll just say that anywhere. It’s different if you have two or three seniors who have been playing and one freshman pops in there, then they can carry that guy along.”

Experienced defense
Defensively, the Bears have eight returning players with starting experience, although George noted that not all could start in 2010. Among those making a return to the field will be cornerback Pat Bennett. Bennett was an Eastern College Athletic Conference Northeast and NEFC Bogan Division first-team selection in 2008. He sat out 2009 to concentrate on academics. Another returning player is linebacker Kyle Ennis. Ennis, who led Division III with solo tackles in 2008, but missed last year with an injury.

What will ultimately determine the Bears’ success when they don’t have the ball is whether they can stop the run and pressure the quarterback.

“I know last year we were young at a lot of spots on defense,” said senior linebacker Ben Barrett,” and especially with the additions of Pat Bennett and Kyle Ennis, we’re looking to really step things up on that side of the ball and help out the offense as much as possible.

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