Luke St. Hilaire of Winthrop High School.
WINTHROP — Luke St. Hilaire loves football. His right knee reminds him how much he loves it every time it aches.
Football has been a big part of St. Hilaire’s life as long as he can remember. Growing up playing youth football, rooting for the New England Patriots and occasionally tagging along with his father, Dave, when he covered games for the Sun Journal, only fed his passion.
Now a senior left tackle and captain for Winthrop-Monmouth, Luke continues to share his passion for the game with his father, now the Ramblers’ head coach, his other coaches and teammates.
But it hasn’t been easy.
“I haven’t been 100 percent all year,” he said. “At practice, I’m probably sub-50 (percent). For games, I’m probably at least 75.”
St. Hilaire’s knee has hobbled him the entire season and isn’t getting better, as anyone can plainly see just by watching him walk. It is the same knee he injured early in last year’s D South final loss to Lisbon.
The ACL tear required surgery, and St. Hilaire worked diligently, not only to get himself ready for this season, but to lead an otherwise young line.
Lingering soreness and weakness in the knee and some of Luke’s own natural uncertainty about how far it had progressed in rehab led coaches to move him from center, his position last year, to left tackle. At least there, he could plant and set his base without worrying as much about the knee.
The knee, though, isn’t letting him be as care-free as he’d like. He’s had to ice it constantly, sit out occasional practices and play on just one side of the ball.
“He’s had to sit out partials of the first half because he’s re-injured it, and they’ve assessed him at halftime and let him go back down there (to the field to play),” Dave St. Hilaire said. “We’ve shut him down the last two weeks defensively, but he’s played offensively. We need him to go. He just can’t play both ways.”
“He plays in pain all of the time. Most guys wouldn’t have played through that,” said Winthrop/Monmouth line coach Todd Park. “He’s one of the toughest guys I’ve been around. But what Luke does behind the scenes is equally as impressive as what he does on the field. I can’t say enough good things about him.”
Last year, St. Hilaire was the center of a dominant offensive line that led the Ramblers through an undefeated regular season.
A three-year starter and two-year captain, St. Hilaire set the tone before his junior year by getting the offensive and defensive linemen together to supplement their offseason weight training with strength and agility drills.
“I firmly believe that’s the reason we had the success we had last year,” Park said.
The line was such a well-oiled machine that coaches were able to expand its line call responsibilities, with St. Hilaire making most of the audible calls for blocking assignments. The linemen got so good at it that by the end of the season, they were making false line calls to confuse the defense. “Charlie Sheen” was both St. Hilaires’ favorite dummy call.
It’s a wonder Charlie Sheen hasn’t had to line up at guard for the Ramblers at some point this season with all of the injuries they’ve had. St. Hilaire and sophomore center Shane Tweedie are the only two linemen to start every game. They haven’t had the same starting offensive line two games in a row all season.
The revolving doors have had coaches scrambling, sometimes just before game time, to move players from other positions such as fullback to fill a spot on the line. If there is more than one leak to plug, the least experienced replacement is usually tied to the left tackle’s hip.
“Because of what we’ve had to do with our offensive line, when we have a new guy in there, we put him next to Luke and say, ‘Luke, make sure he knows where he’s going,'” Dave St. Hilaire said.
“We’ve got a pretty tight group. I’m good friends with a lot of the guys personally,” Luke St. Hilaire said. “We rep through plays every practice, so I try to get all of the guys and the underclassmen ready to go just in case, because you just never know who you’re going to need to go with.”
The worst of the Ramblers’ line shuffle may be over. They’ve won two in a row and are 3-3 heading into a big game against rival Oak Hill on Saturday.
His knee may be telling him otherwise, but Luke St. Hilaire wouldn’t bail out on the season now for anything.
“I definitely think we’re peaking at the right time,” he said. “You can tell in practice compared to a couple of weeks ago. We’re locked in. The guys have gelled together. Everyone’s gotten more reps and understands their positions. We’ve finally got some depth coming back, which is great.”
He probably faces more surgery in the offseason, which has him reconsidering continuing to play through college. For now, he thinks his future in football will probably consist of coaching and being a member of the Central Maine Football Forecasters Association.
All the more reason to make the most of his last season with his father and the Ramblers.
“It’s gone quick,” Dave St. Hilaire said. “I’ve seen my first two kids go through (high school) and those four years are the fastest four years of (a parent’s) life. Not theirs. Yours.”
“It’s football. It’s fun. I love it,” Luke St. Hilaire said. “Even if I was just helping out coaching, I’d still love it.”