WINTHROP — While some coaches like to put on their best Bill Belichick scowl for the start of high school football season, Joel Stoneton is grinning from ear to ear.

“It’s just a great time to be here in this program. It’s just so much fun,” he said.

Stoneton and his Winthrop football program have been revitalized by the influx of players from neighboring Monmouth Academy. After years of discussion and tentative agreements, Winthrop and Monmouth officially combined their football programs for the 2013 season, adding much-needed numbers and talent to the former while giving players from the latter their first opportunity to suit up for a varsity football game since 1977.

“They’re excited to be able to play. We’re excited because we’re going to be competitive again and we have numbers,” Stoneton said.

The Winthrop/Monmouth co-op, which retains its Ramblers nickname, its green-and-white color scheme and its Maxwell Field home field from Winthrop, practiced with 56 players Tuesday. That’s exactly double the number of exhausted players Stoneton had at the end of last year’s 2-6 campaign, when a combination of Winthrop’s declining enrollment and injuries took his team “from being a playoff contender to just trying to keep it respectable,” Stoneton said.

Under the direction of Norm Thombs, Monmouth had a more than respectable run as a junior varsity club program over several years. But after spending a summer getting to know their new teammates and coaches in the weight room and 7-on-7 football, the Monmouth players know they have entered a whole new football world.


“We’re definitely taking a step up,” said senior center Cole Arsenault of Monmouth. “It’s definitely been a lot more intense. There’s been more of a family atmosphere, more tight-knit.”

Arsenault, who was the first team captain designated by the coaches, said some of his Monmouth teammates hesitated or even refused to come out for football this season because they will no longer be playing as Monmouth Academy Mustangs.

But any anxiety the Monmouth players had about how they would be received by the Winthrop players has been alleviated.

“They’ve been very, very open-minded. They’ve accepted us in and showed us the ropes more or less, telling us how they do things,” Arsenault said. “They’ve also been listening to us and how we used to do things and how we can maybe make something better.”

“We were excited, because we wanted to be a better team and get the numbers,” senior running back Zach Glazier said. “They were excited because they had kids that were good and they wanted to play (varsity) football and be one team.”

Stoneton still recognized the potential for tension between players from the two schools, especially since some Monmouth kids will be taking playing time away some teammates who saw a lot of time on the field last year.


Coaches like how that breeds more competition and allows them to keep more players fresh by playing them on one side of the ball. But Stoneton knew he had to make sure it didn’t foster division within the ranks.

“I did sense some of that but I think we’ve addressed it,” said Stoneton, who added former Monmouth assistant coach Jarod Richmond to his staff and will be getting help on game-days from Thombs. “We’re not here to try to smokescreen anybody. I mean, let’s be honest, we’ve got 19 seniors. That’s a lot of people to try to get on the field in a game.”

“There is no Winthrop or Monmouth. The kids have meshed very well this summer,” he said.

Stoneton has tried to speed up that process by immersing the players in the Winthrop football tradition. He brought in George Tzikas, a star running back on the unbeaten 1975 state championship team, to speak to the players about their identity as Ramblers.

“What we’re trying to stress to them is they’re a part of history,” Stoneton said. “This is the first time they’re going to be together as a team playing on this field, and that’s a pretty special thing.”

Arsenault acknowledged he and the rest of the Monmouth contingent are eager to prove themselves on the field. Stoneton and the Winthrop contingent have no reservations about the Monmouth players’ readiness to perform at the varsity level.


“We know a lot of these kids. We grew up playing sports all around with them, so we know what they have for talent,” junior wide receiver Dakota Carter said.

Some of the most welcome talent has been added to the trenches, where Monmouth brings some much-needed beef and depth. But the difference the imports make is already being felt all over the field.

“We get so much more out of practice with those guys here,” Glazier said.

Despite having so many new faces on the practice field, Stoneton said the Ramblers are ahead of schedule this preseason. He saw the merger as a clean slate and has implemented a new offense and defense, so players from both towns are on the same learning curve.

With the merger and realignment, the Ramblers will go from having one of the smallest rosters in their conference to one of the largest in the newly-formed Western Class D. If the chemistry continues to develop and everyone grasps the new system, they have their sights set on their first playoff appearance since 2009 and their first state title since 2000.

“I think everyone is going into the season with very, very high expectations. The playoffs are on everybody’s minds,” Arsenault said. “Everyone is aiming and working hard to go for the gold, and I think people believe that we can do it. It’s just going to take that hard work and determination.”

One of the first tasks will be to end the Ramblers’ two-year winless drought on their home field, which they will try to do in their season-opener against longtime rival Lisbon.

As the kids from Monmouth are already learning, they couldn’t ask for a better introduction to varsity football.

“For a lot of the Monmouth players, it’s going to be our first time under the lights,” Arsenault said. “A lot of the Winthrop players have been telling us ‘The moment you step onto the field under the lights on Friday night, you’re just going to be taken in by it.’ It’s going to be amazing.”

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