Vermont Ice Storm head coach Doc Perez admitted that his team pulled off a couple upsets last year en route to winning the Empire Football League and being named American Football Association national champions.
"Any game we win this year will not be an upset," Perez said. "Every week, until and unless we lose, we are going to be favored in every single game."
The Ice Storm kick off their eighth summer at 4 p.m. Saturday with a preseason game against the Southern Vermont Storm at South Burlington High School. It will be the first of three exhibition games before the Ice Storm begin defense of their Empire Football League title.
The Ice Storm -- whose 62-member roster consists of veteran pro players, college players and former high school standouts -- are one of roughly 700 semiprofessional teams across the country.
The Vermont Ravens, based in central Vermont, will also start their season Saturday with a preseason game against the Glens Falls Green Jackets in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
The Ice Storm went 15-1 last year, putting together arguably their most successful season since the team was formed in 2000. They were named the American Football Association national champions but lost 22-14 to the Detroit Black Ravens in the USA Bowl in Florida, which served as the AAA national championship game.
"Considering we went down to Miami and lost our last game that we played, I think everyone's got that tenacity to just go out there and show the whole nation what we can do," said Ice Storm receiver Zach Howe, who lives in South Burlington. "Our expectations are a lot higher than they've ever been before."
And for good reason. Perez said every starter is back and will be pushed by several promising rookies.
"We have four linebackers who were first- or second-team all-stars, led by (Chris) Coppins and (Aaron) Pryor," Perez said. "Three of our four defensive backs were all-stars.
"The biggest change is that we've beefed up our defensive line," Perez added. "Our defensive corps is phenomenal."
The offense also appears solid, led by quarterback Brad Ruderman, running backs Akeem Williams and Jason Young and receiver Troy Canada. Ruderman, the starting QB for seven years, will be challenged by former Mount Abraham Union standout Matt Paul for playing time.
"We are going to give them each a half in these preseason games and see who is the best," Perez said.
After Saturday, the Ice Storm will play their home games at Colchester High School.
Contact John A. Fantino at 651-4851.