LIVERMORE FALLS — If it seems that Matt Vigue, Peter Theriault and Deonte Ring played for Spruce Mountain football forever, well, it’s because they did.

The Phoenix’s “big three” were part of the school’s inaugural team when Jay and Livermore Falls merged their high schools in 2012.

Each member of the trio started on both sides of the ball from their sophomore year to the finish line. All three concluded their career in the Maine Shrine Lobster Bowl this past summer.

How do you replace that presence? The short answer is that you don’t, but the Phoenix do believe in their athletes and their spread option system strongly enough to envision themselves near the top of Class C South once again.

“We’ve had a lot of guys who were good who could have played at the varsity level, but last year’s class was so big and talented,” senior James Ouellette said. “They just really haven’t had the chance to play.”

Ouellette, who has been the leading tackler for Spruce Mountain since midway through his sophomore year, headlines a new senior big three for the Phoenix. He stars at middle linebacker and probably will see time at tight end or fullback in some of Spruce Mountain’s offensive packages.

Andrew Darling, who also has been an all-purpose standout since his sophomore campaign, will try to step in for his cousin, Vigue, as the slot back. And the aptly nicknamed “Bash,” Sebastian Lombardi, is a three-year starter at guard and linebacker.

“It’s weird being the leader,” Ouellette said. “Me and Bash and Andrew are the leaders of the team, and since my freshman year it’s been Matt, Peter and Deonte. They’ve always just been the leaders.”

Darling was the No. 3 receiver for the Phoenix the past two autumns, often left wide open when opponents were excessively leery of Theriault’s deep throws to Ring or screens to Vigue.

Now it’s his turn both to take on an enhanced role and defend the family honor.

“It’s pretty big shoes to fill,” Darling said. “I think it will be pretty balanced. Losing Matt, Deonte and Pete is obviously a big thing, but I think we’ll be fine. Matt always got the ball obviously because he was … crazy.”

There is no shortage of talent around Darling in the backfield.

Dillon Webster returns at one running back position after a splendid sophomore season. And the Phoenix regain explosive senior Andrew Henault, who scored a varsity touchdown as a freshman before transferring to Mt. Blue.

“We’re still predicated on our speed,” Spruce Mountain coach Walter Polky said. “A lot of speed, quickness and athleticism.”

Spruce Mountain’s recent graduates helped their program in the long term by being so efficient.

In a seven-game winning streak to start last season, the Phoenix outscored their opponents 331-57. Starters sat out many second halves while understudies enjoyed valuable playing time.

That’s the case with junior quarterback Caulin Parker, who mopped up for Theriault in almost every Spruce Mountain victory the past two seasons.

“We have a whole senior line, and our backfield is pretty much seniors,” Darling said. “We have a young quarterback, but I think he’ll do fine. He looks good in practice, getting his reads down.”

Every starting lineman except Lombardi has moved on, but Polky has the luxury of inserting a current senior into each spot.

Chad Richards, Stephen Sylvester, Ethan Dow and Tommy Young all move into the regular rotation.

“There’s a lot of new faces, but a lot of faces that played,” Polky said. “They’re starting for the first time this year, but they’re four-year letter guys.”

The not-so-newcomers will be thrown into the fire with a road trip to Wells on opening night. Three of the toughest games — Class C South favorite Yarmouth, Class B crossover heavyweight Leavitt, and resurgent Mountain Valley — are clustered together at the end of the regular season.

Ouellette suffered a torn ACL midway through basketball season but has been ready and itching to go for months.

“That will probably be our biggest strength, is defense,” Ouellette said. “It’s just reading, really. The holes just open up.”

The same could be said for the depth chart, but in the consolidated-school era there are plenty of reinforcements in camp.

So while fans might need a program for the first game or two, they’re likely to enjoy the same entertainment value they have come to expect.

“We’re still going to be spreading it out,” Polky said.


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