DIXFIELD — Mason Cote is no different than most high school football offensive linemen in Maine.

He’s spent an entire career believing, deep down, that he’s a running back.

Catch Cote scurrying between classes at Dirigo High School without his helmet and shoulder pads and you might understand the identity crisis. The senior is listed on the Cougars’ roster at an even six feet and 168 pounds. And perhaps both vital statistics are a smidgen charitable.

“I used to be a fullback, and I loved it,” said Cote. “I miss carrying the ball.”

Cote’s fate was sealed as a freshman, when the first drill of Doug Gilbert’s initial practice left an indelible impression on the coach.

In or around his midsection, to be precise.

“We were going helmets only. I had a (cigarette). Then I said to Mason, ‘Hit me.’ He almost knocked me on my butt the first time as a freshman,” Gilbert said. “I said, ‘This kid’s got no fear. He’s got to be in my lineup somewhere.’ I mean, holy cow, I’m a pretty big guy, and, ‘Boom!'”

Any group of freshmen is flush with aspiring, so-called “skill” position players until the coach explains the basic mathematics. There are two full-time running backs, three at most. High school receivers are primarily blockers, anyway. And including tight ends, there are six or seven no-frills job openings for guys who do nothing but hit people.

That last portion of the sales pitch appealed to Cote, who was told by Gilbert that summer morning he could audition for a slot as a third-string fullback or compete for a starting job at left guard.

“A couple of games into it, I was starting at guard,” Cote said. “I’ve been stuck there ever since.”

His choice of words hints at every lineman’s dream to saunter into the end zone a time or two, but Cote wouldn’t trade the way it’s worked out for a few trinket touchdowns.

Cote is a rarity in this sport so heavily predicated upon size and strength. He’s a four-year starter and a multi-time Campbell Conference all-star for his exploits as a guard and linebacker.

Most importantly, Dirigo — a program barely off the ground in its second life when Cote reached high school — has won 27 games during his career. That includes a 10-0 ledger this year heading into Saturday’s Western Class C championship game against Yarmouth at Harlow Park.

“I wanted to do what was best for the team,” Cote said.

Dirigo’s philosophy is founded upon quickness, and not merely from the guys who carry and catch the ball. Cote and his compact stature aren’t a novelty on an offensive line also anchored by sophomore Jake Dowland (6-0, 185) and junior Arik Fenstermacher (5-11, 168).

By contrast, Cougars quarterback Nic Crutchfield and fullback Tyler Chiasson each check in at nearly 200 pounds.

“We’ve got a 290-pound guy on our line, but we don’t need it. When I played at Rumford High School, our backfield outweighed our line,” Gilbert said. “Even when I played at Maine Maritime, we weren’t very big up front, but the Wing-T offense is all about moving the guards and getting angle blocks. Very rarely do you block one-on-one. We don’t really run a Wing-T offense, but it’s the same premise.”

Not that Gilbert gets alarmed when Cote is matched up against a defensive tackle and giving away triple digits on the scale.

“He had a block the other day where he just pancaked the kid,” said Gilbert. “He runs right through you.”

Big plays have been the Cougars’ calling card throughout the postseason. In last week’s 26-0 semifinal win over Winthrop, Chiasson credited the line’s downfield blocks for springing his 56-yard TD catch-and-run from Crutchfield.

The same could be said of the long TD connection from Crutchfield to Alex Miele and Spencer Ross’ lengthy scoring jaunt on the ground.

“If you aren’t fast enough to get around end and make that block,” Cote said, “the whole play’s gone.”

That’s one lesson for you misplaced fullbacks. And here’s another: If you aren’t courageous enough to leave your coach with a facemask-sized bruise only five minutes after meeting him, it could change four years of school history.


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