LISBON — Sometimes finesse is treated as a dirty word in football.
Lisbon High School players don’t roll their eyes, scowl or hang their heads in shame when it gets mentioned. Quickness, misdirection and subterfuge have served the Greyhounds well over the years, most recently in four seasons with Quincy Thompson and Jordon Torres as backfield mainstays.
This year’s Greyhounds are big, burly and abashedly blue-collar, and nobody’s shedding any tears about the philosophical change.
“It’s going great. I’ve always enjoyed blocking and being the first guy to hit somebody. Deliver the blows so our running backs don’t take very many,” Lisbon fullback Joe Philbrick said. “We’ve always been a physical class. We like bringing the hits to the other team.”
Of course, being undefeated helps.
Lisbon (4-0) has breezed through the first segment of its schedule, winning by an average of 24 points per game.
“I used to play guard, and when we had the fast kids it was a lot more pulling,” left tackle Darren Ward said. “This year I’m going right at kids. It’s more fun to go through someone than around them.”
The Greyhounds start seniors Ward and Robert Wood at tackle, Adam Desjardins at center and Josh Collier along with sophomore Tanton Mattson. Another upperclassman, Sean Ball, has shifted from fullback to guard in recent weeks.
Those nearly grown men have run into a small problem in practice.
“With only one or two sophomores most of the season, our scout team is all freshmen. We can’t push them around, so we’ve been pushing the five-man sled,” Lisbon coach Dick Mynahan said. “We do it three days a week. It’s probably making us a little better conditioned than usual.”
Ward agreed, adding that he notices a difference in the second half of games.
“It helps your leg muscles. One thing I’ve noticed is that my legs aren’t as tired,” Ward said. “There’s usually at least one coach on it, so that’s another 200 pounds on top of the weight of the sled.”
Opponents know the feeling when they’re trying to tackle — or avoid — the 220-pound Philbrick or sophomore tailback Noah Francis.
Shawn Grover and track star Henry Adams provide the change of pace, but the Greyhounds’ approach is decidedly straight-ahead.
“Noah Francis brings something that Lisbon hasn’t had in a while, which is a big, aggressive running back,” Philbrick said. “He doesn’t get many lost yards. He runs north and south. I love it. I get my carries every once in a while. I get my due. But I like the hitting part.”
Philbrick, who emerged as the short-yardage and blocking back in front of Thompson and Torres a year ago, has taken those duties to a level Mynahan hasn’t often encountered in five decades with the program.
“Joe, there’s no question about it, is the best blocking back we’ve had here in many years,” the coach said. “Probably a lot of it goes unnoticed, but not by me and not by a lot of other coaches. I think people are starting to shift to Joe, but it doesn’t seem to matter right now.”
Lisbon’s no-frills rushing proficiency maintains a symbiotic relationship with its potent passing attack.
Third-year starter Kyle Bourget is having his best season to date, with Adams and sophomore Tyler Halls furnishing two explosive downfield threats.
“The biggest surprise is probably Kyle Bourget,” Mynahan said. “It has nothing to do with his throwing or leading the team. I think he’s brought his baseball attitude over to football. He’s here to play, and it makes a difference. You can’t ask for any more than what he’s done for us.”
He doesn’t tip the scales at the level of Philbrick, Wood, or even Francis, but Bourget is taking on some of that bull-in-a-china-shop mentality.
“I’ve gotten bigger and stronger. I’m looking to hit this year, not run out of bounds but lower my shoulder,” Bourget said. “This year we’ve got Joe and Noah, big kids who run through kids, and also some shiftier kids. It’s great running behind two big guys coming around and blocking for you.”
Lisbon has made the transition from evasive to unyielding with exquisite timing.
Oak Hill’s double wing and Dirigo’s Wing-T are equally dependent upon grit, strength and persistence. After a trip to Maranacook on Friday night, the Greyhounds conclude the regular season against the Cougars (4-0) and Raiders (4-1).
Barring some colossal upsets, one of those local teams will represent Class D West in the state game next month.
“I think we’ve met our expectations,” Bourget said. “We came out here this season knowing that we lost a lot but that we had a lot coming back. We’re working harder every week and striving for that undefeated season.”
Lisbon appears purpose-built to meet that challenge.
“Now we’re going to run right at you. Joe’s going to lead block, and whoever he doesn’t get, the other guy’s going to run you over,” Ward said.
“We’re just anxious to have an opportunity to be in those games,” Mynahan added. “We’re not going to be disappointed either way. This has been a team where hard work is what you depend upon every day. The game, whatever happens, happens. They work very hard in practice, and that’s all I ask of them.”