LACONIA — Laconia High School football coach Craig Kozens said that his players couldn't have been more excited when they took to the new turf field Wednesday for their first practice on the new surface.
''It was like Christmas came early. We've been practicing at New Hampton School and not getting back home until nine o'clock. So it's nice to get back to regular practice schedule'' says Kozens.
The new field at Bank of New Hampshire Stadium will see its first game action this afternoon and evening when the Sachems scrimmage John Stark Regional from Weare, with the junior varsity taking the field at 5 p.m. and the varsity at 7 p.m.
Kozens says there's a lot of excitement about the new field, named for former long-time head coach Jim Fitzgerald, which offers a dramatic new look behind the high school and where the Sachems will open their season on Friday, September 6 when they host Pembroke Academy.
Also new this year is realignment of the divisions on New Hampshire high school football which has cut the number of divisions from six to three and will see Laconia competing in the 20-team Division II.
The new three-division system has basically fused the old Divisions I and II into the new D-I, Divisions III and IV into the new D-II, and Divisions V and VI into the new D-III.
There are four conferences in each division, with the following lineup in Division II, which has 20 teams:
North: Hanover, Kennett, Laconia, Lebanon and Plymouth.
South: John Stark, Milford, Souhegan, Trinity and Windham.
West: Con-Val, Hollis/Brookline, Kearsarge, Monadnock and Sanborn.
Central: Kingswood, Merrimack Valley, Pembroke, Portsmouth and St. Thomas.
Laconia will play the other four teams in the North Conference as well Kingswood, Pembroke and Portsmouth from the Central Conference, Monadnock from the West Conference and Milford from the South Conference.
Eight teams will qualify for the playoffs with the top new teams in each conference meeting in the first playoff round. The four remaining teams will then be seeded using a point system and will meet in the semifinals, with the No. 4 seed playing at the No. 1 seed, and the No. 3 seed playing at the No 2 seed.
Kozens said the new alignment will mean that every game matters and make it much more difficult for teams to advance to the championship game.
He said that both Plymouth and Portsmouth are defending champions under the old format while Trinity of Manchester figures to be one of the top contenders for Division II honors.
Kozens said he's looking for the Sachems to be a competitive team in the division and is hoping to build on the momentum from last year's season in which Laconia won four of its last five games after getting off to an 0-4 start in an injury plagued season.
''We're going to be playing Laconia style football, grinding it out and playing a tough defense. We've got a really hard-working group of players who are growing together as a team.'' says Kozens.
He said that Steven Kemos, an inside linebacker on defense and a fullback on offense, and Efran Nouel, a two-way lineman, are looking good in early scrimmages and that he's pleased with the effort of running backs Jon Pelky and Chris Frontiero as well as lineman Mitchell Bailey.
Adding some power to the running game is Kyle Chaisson, who missed last season and has looked good so far in the pre-season.
Returning as quarterback is junior Matt Swormstedt, who last year completed 22 out of 45 passes for five touchdowns.
Kozens said that Swormstedt, who was only the second sophomore starting quarterback in LHS history, is an intelligent signal caller who knows how to run an offense and adjust to what the defense is doing in front of him.
''It's going to be an exciting season,'' says Kozens, who says that both Plymouth and Portsmouth are defending champions under the old format and, along with Trinity of Manchester, figure to be among the top contenders for Division II honors.