Winthrop/Monmouth/Hall-Dale players go through a workout during a preseason practice. (Randy Whitehouse/Sun Journal)
WINTHROP — Now entering its sixth season, the football partnership between Winthrop High School and Monmouth Academy has proven to be a pretty fruitful one, posting a 30-16 record and five playoff appearances.
This season, Winthrop and Monmouth welcome another neighbor to the co-op, Hall-Dale High School. And not a moment too soon.
Two years of graduation losses have taken a toll on the Ramblers’ varsity experience and overall numbers. But while they are grateful to add two players from the Farmingdale school who coach Dave St. Hilaire believes can contribute right away, the Ramblers still think they have the talent and experience to make another playoff run in 2018.
“It’s time to play smart, focus up and believe in our techniques and our coaches,” senior guard/linebacker Keegan Gruver said.
The Ramblers will need to run better than they did last year to extend their postseason stay.
With starting QB Keegan Choate returning and a bevy of receivers at his disposal, St. Hilaire expects the Ramblers to thrive through the air. But questions remain about how they can find a balance on the ground.
“We’re trying to establish a running game, which we really didn’t have last year,” St. Hilaire said. “We only averaged 3.4 yards per carry. The year before, we were 5.7. The guys know 3.4 doesn’t cut it.”
The Ramblers have a good combination of size and quickness but not as much depth on the lines as in recent years. Senior Alixx Canwell and junior Pat Rush, both from Hall-Dale, will bolster a unit that should be able to open lanes for the running backs once it meshes. One of the goals of the preseason was to figure out who can find and exploit those holes.
“(Running the ball) is really important,” said Choate, who was the Ramblers’ most dangerous runner last year. “I think we’ll have the blockers for it. We’ve got to get it back to what it was the year before last.”
“It got messy at times last year,” Gruver said. “We’ve got to fix that up and try to make something happen with those plays.”
Defensively, the Ramblers have some holes to fill up front thanks to graduation and the transfer out of state of starting defensive end Noah Elegbede. Two new additions, senior Beau Brooks and junior Jake Sousa, a transfer from Cony, will bolster the secondary.
“We lost five defensive tackles to graduation,” St. Hilaire said. “We’ve got the two Hall-Dale kids, who have never played before, and some other options. But we finally have some depth in the defensive backfield.”
Winthrop/Monmouth/Hall-Dale players work on pass players during a preseason practice. (Randy Whitehouse/Sun Journal)Winthrop/Monmouth/Hall-Dale players go through a drill during a preseason practice. (Randy Whitehouse/Sun Journal)Winthrop/Monmouth/Hall-Dale players practice during the preseason. (Randy Whitehouse/Sun Journal)