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Middlebury College quarterback Will Jernigan drops back to pass as lineman Chris Fink blocks a defender during a football game against Williams College.

MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury College head football coach Bob Ritter has been around the block. He’s been at the helm of the Panthers for 20 years but he might never have been as amped up for a season quite the way he is for this one.

Having that missing COVID year will do that. It deepens your appreciation for a game that you lready loved. He is having fun this week as he prepares the Panthers for Saturday’s season opener at Williams.

“It’s a blast. It’s fun having a week where you are planning for a game,” he said at practice on Tuesday.

The Panthers were 9-0 in 2019 and return the Offensive NESCAC Player of the Year in quarterback Will Jernigan as well as the Defensive Player of the Year in linebacker Jack Pistorius.

Pistorius said the Panthers got a sampling of playing some real football again recently during an intrasquad scrimmage.

Still, that will be nothing like lining up against the Ephs in Williamstown, Massachusetts on Saturday at 2 p.m..

“I’m excited for the real thing,” Pistorius said.

“Everyone has been antsy for a year,” Jernigan said. “Week One against Williams has been circled on our calendar for a year now.

“We have been scouting Williams really heavily on the film we have available.”

The 9-0 season is memorable, something to take pride in. It’s also something to forget. Ancient history.

The mantra around the Panthers is 1-0, not 9-0.

“We want to be 1-0 after beating Williams,” offensive tackle Zack Sieb said. “We are just looking forward to the next game.

“We can’t look ahead and we can’t look backwards, either.”

He also knows that coming off the 9-0 season and wearing the NESCAC crown puts a target on their back.

“We are the hunted so we have to work that much harder,” Sieb said.

Jernigan points out that there were some close calls during that perfect season.

“We always have room to grow,” the quarterback said.

The roster is no longer capped this year in the NESCAC. The previous roster limit was 75 and Ritter was concerned the larger team might be unwieldy.

That concern has been alleviated.

“The practices have been great and all the guys are getting plenty of reps,” he said.

Jernigan said he is relishing the extra year granted by the NCAA due to COVID. He is embracing every aspect of the game that much more.

“I appreciate another year to be able to play football. That has been the growth for me,” Jernigan said.

Saturday’s other NESCAC football openers have Hamilton hosting Bowdoin, Amherst traveling to Bates, Wesleyan visiting Colby and Trinity hosting Tufts.

NOTES: The announcing booth at Youngman Field will have an “RR” adorning it in memory of longtime Middlebury football public address announcer and men’s basketball coach Russ Reilly. ... Ritter’s record at Middlebury is 102-53. ... Hartford High graduates Tyler and Kyle Hamilton are on Bates’ defensive unit Tyler as a linebacker and Kyle on the defensive line. ... CVU graduate Seth Boffa is a freshman linebacker on the Middlebury roster. ... Middlebury must deal with Williams receiver Frank Stola. He tied a program record with 13 receptions in a game against Tufts in 2019. He broke the school record that same day with four touchdown catches. ... Colby coach Jack Cosgrove will join Proctor High School Athletic Director Jake Eaton in the University of Maine Hall of Fame on Friday. Cosgrove was Eaton’s head coach at UMaine.

tom.haley @rutlandherald.com

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