Oak Hill coach Stacen Doucette addresses his team during a preseason practice.
WALES — Oak Hill coach Stacen Doucette always says the Raiders are a work in progress. Even in the midst of their run of three consecutive state titles, he’s made it clear that there is always work to be done to get better.
After graduating all but two starters and four lettermen, the Raiders had a little more work to do in this preseason than usual.
As all high school football coaches know, fitting new players into new roles and developing team chemistry in that short window of time can be a challenge. So to help speed up the process, Doucette took his team on a three-day, two-night team-building excursion to Bog Brook, a military training facility in Gilead.
Even with the preseason activities, Doucette believes it will be well into the regular season before the young Raiders truly know how they can succeed in the new look Class D South.
“I think by weeks three or four, we’ll find out what we can do,” senior tailback Cruz Poirier said. “I think team chemistry and team leadership are going to be our strengths this year.”
“I think our goal is to weather the storm early, improve, find our identity after a few games, get better each game, then midway through the year make a run and hopefully scare some people at the end of the year,” Doucette said.
Doucette has some playmakers back who will scare opponents from week one. Senior slot/free safety Darryn Bailey is a tough matchup at 6-foot-2, 2oo pounds with speed. Poirier is the leading returning rusher and a stabilizing veteran in an otherwise inexperienced backfield.
“Darren is a threat to score every time he touches the ball,” Doucette said. “Cruz is steady Eddie. He’s one of our more experienced players, playing since he was a sophomore at tailback. He does a very good job in all facets.”
Doucette said freshman Gavin Rawstron will get the majority of snaps at QB, with junior jack-of-all-trades Ethan Barnett seeing occasional action. The plan is to be more balanced than they were last year.
“I think our passing game will be very strong. Our line is definitely a little bit different than last year,” Bailey said.
The line will be completely new and a microcosm of the team as players develop and battle for playing time.
“Some kids are a little more experienced and a little further along as far as understanding,” Doucette said. “We have highly-competitive practices and games because they’ve got to do their job. The guy behind them is ready to go.”
The defensive line is deeper and more versatile and will help linebackers such as Poirier and the defensive backs led by Bailey make plays.
“The defensive line has a little bit of experience, a little bit of size,” Doucette said. “We have kids with a lot of different skill sets, so we can take advantage of different skill sets. But we’ve got a lot of work to do.”
Working to match or improve upon last year’s 6-3 record requires navigating a schedule that will include renewing acquaintances with former Class D rival Yarmouth and new opponents such as 2016 Class C champion Wells and C North semifinalist Madison. The latter two have moved down with the five-class realignment, along with Poland, Spruce Mountain and Mountain Valley.
The Raiders are as curious as anyone to see how the new division plays out and where they will fit. But they are confident they will be a factor when all is said and done.
“We’re definitely building,” Bailey said. “”We’re a young team. I think by the middle of the year we’ll know where we’re headed. I think we’ll get further than we did last year.”