It’s all about strength up the middle.

For the Raiders, who are off to a 2-0 start and travel to Winslow on Saturday, that strength starts on the defensive line. When he became the head coach earlier this year, Doucette wanted to build a physical defense around a line capable of making the rest of the defense better.

The key, Doucette knew, was having the middle of the line, the nose tackle and two defensive tackles, form the heart of the Raiders’ five-man front.  And those players couldn’t just take up space.

“We wanted to find tackles who could play two gaps and be physical and be able to slide their feet, that can be athletic,” he said.

Most coaches who play a front like Oak Hill would be happy to have two or three of those players. Doucette has six.

Nose tackles Mike Saunders and Donnie Vannah and defensive tackles Bayley Beaulieu, Richard Fillion, Chris Harlow and Luke Washburn form the rugged middle of an Oak Hill defense that has allowed just seven points in two games.

Consisting of four seniors and two juniors, the sextet has more than 10 years of varsity starting experience collectively. But that experience was a mixed blessing with a new head coach because they’ve had to pick up new responsibilities for the defense and, in some cases, change positions.

“We’re all just going hard and trying to fight to the gap and be a two-gap player,” said Vannah, a senior who was an all-Campbell Conference lineman as a junior. “Last year, we were playing more inside the gap and trying to shoot inside. Now it’s more tight, head-up, and fight for your gap.”

“We’re expected to control our territory,” said Washburn, a junior who converted from defensive end this year. “That, in a way, is a big responsibility, because we’ve got a couple of gaps to take instead of just shooting (one gap).”

Controlling the gaps, or the spaces between each offensive lineman, slows down the run, puts pressure on quarterbacks trying to pass and frees up linebackers and defensive ends to make tackles.

The Raiders’ new scheme calls for the linemen to take an aggressive approach to win the trenches.

“We’ve got to keep our heads, get our hands in front of us and work the man. Don’t let them work us,” said Fillion, a senior.

Each of the linemen works their man in different ways. The group ranges in size from the 5-foot-3, 170-pound Vannah to the 6-foot-3, 230-pound Washburn.

 “Some are quicker and some are gap shooters,” Doucette said. “Some are strictly two-gap players. Some are a little bit of both.”

Having linemen with a broad range of skills diversifies the defense, Doucette added.

“We like our advantages in certain defenses. We can do different things with different kids,” he said.

 The versatility and depth keeps everyone fresh and focused.

“I think it helps us in terms of our responsibilities. We don’t get lazy,” said Beaulieu, a junior. “We get up after a play and we’re ready to hit every play.”

“It’s really, really nice to know when you put in a kid to give somebody a spell, that kid is doing just as well as the starter,” Doucette said. “We have the same expectations for starters and subs. It’s a good luxury to have.”

Doucette enjoys that luxury on the other side of the ball, where seniors Brian Daniels and Caleb Provost join the group on a formidable offensive line that has paved the way for 33 points in each of their first two games.

It would be hard to find a more cohesive group of linemen in the Campbell Conference.

“We’ve been playing since eighth grade together. This is like our old eighth grade team, so the chemistry is there,” Vannah said.

“We trust each other. We rely on someone and they can rely on us,” Harlow said.

The players credit Doucette with motivating them to get into the weight room over the summer and setting a business-like tone. It carried over to their season-opening trouncing of two-time defending state champion Yarmouth.

Most observers found the 33-7 final score shocking. Not the Raiders.

“Right from the opening kickoff, not even the kickoff, looking around the locker room before the game, no one was screwing around, no one was joking around. We were focused,” Saunders said. “I knew we were going to win that game.”

A focused Oak Hill can be confident of more wins down the line, thanks to the line.


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