Winthrop/Monmouth/Hall-Dale football coach Dave St. Hilaire had a message for his players at the beginning of the season. He had it for them in the first few practices. And he had it for them once again on Monday.

“We told them before practice today, ‘Guys, there’s only one football. And no one’s going to get the ball 30 times,’ ” St. Hilaire said. ” ‘There’s not going to be any bell cow.’ “

What the Ramblers have, instead, is depth and balance, and a versatile assortment of skill players that has them positioned to be a favorite in Class D. The Ramblers have speed and power on the ground and multiple weapons in the passing game, making it hard for opponents to figure out who’s getting the ball, where it’s going — and how to stop it.

Head coach Dave St. Hilaire is framed in a ring being tackled by Gavin Perkins during practice Tuesday in Winthrop. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan Buy this Photo

It’s not a formula for league-leading rushers or receivers, or Fitzpatrick finalists. But with the Ramblers scoring 34.7 points per game and sporting a 2-1 record, it’s clear to see that it works — and that the players, whether they’re the ones getting the ball or not, are on board.

We’re working well as a team, so I think it doesn’t matter how many touches you get or how many passes you catch,” running back Ian Steele said. “As long as we’re winning, everybody’s OK with that.”

When they don’t (get the ball), they’re just proud of everyone else, and moving the ball around is all we really care about,” receiver Gavin Perkins said. “The best part about it is winning and all of that, so they don’t really care how many touches they get. They want a couple, but if everyone else works hard and goes off, it works out in the end.”

So far, the stats have demonstrated that balance. On the ground, Steele has been the leading rusher with 23 carries for 153 yards, but Logan Baird (16 for 75), Jevin Smith (14 for 75), Jacob Sousa (six for 106) and Beau Schmelzer (seven for 27) have gotten their chances with the ball. Through the air, Perkins has led with nine catches for 203 yards and three touchdowns, but Ryan Baird (six for 88, two scores) and Schmelzer (five for 93, one score) have been common targets for quarterback Keegan Choate as well.

We’ve got seven or eight guys that are very good athletes,” St. Hilaire said. “Some of them are power runners, some are fast runners, some of them are very good route-runners and catch the ball, some of them are very good blockers.”

The balance keeps the Ramblers’ skill players fresh, but it also helps them adapt to the style that will best match the opponent’s identity. With power runners Smith and Steele, the Ramblers can ram through a light front. With speedier options in Schmelzer and Sousa, the Ramblers can run around a defense loading up the box with bigger bodies.

When we were playing Oak Hill (last weekend, in a 42-21 win), they were trying to beat our stretch, so we could just go power,” Steele said. “Then, when they would over-commit to power, we would go stretch. It’s very valuable to our team that we have speed and power, a little mix of both, because they can’t really stop it if we have it timed well and a good combination.”

High school teams often center the offense around handing off to the feature back and organizing the play for him. The Ramblers, meanwhile, put the players on the field that fit the situation.

In order to get different guys touches, we came up with packages for each one of them to get them on the field,” St. Hilaire said. “So we went with power (last weekend against Oak Hill), but if we need to go for spread and it’s a big, slow team, we can do that and spread the ball out and make them cover our rabbits out in space. So we practice both ways, and we know we can do it in the middle of a game.”

It’s a similar concept in the passing game, where an abundance of good receivers makes an opponent think twice about where to put its best cover corners.

“Their defense can’t always just cover one guy,” Perkins said. “They can’t put their best player on our best receiver. They have to mix it around, and that means we always have a better matchup.”

The versatility makes the Ramblers nearly injury-proof. Against the Raiders, Steele ran 12 times for 75 yards and a touchdown. After an injury at tight end, however, Steele moved there, Logan Baird and Smith stepped in and ran a total of 12 times for 74 yards and three touchdowns, and the train kept moving.

It’s just fresh legs,” St. Hilaire said, “and making sure that we’re keeping them all involved, because that’s something else. If a guy hasn’t had a carry for a half, you still want him to be engaged and ready to go.”

The caveat is that players can be cycled out based on the gameplan and situation. A fast player like Schmelzer, for instance, might go a couple of games with hardly any carries if the Ramblers are seeing quicker defenses. If heavier defenses await the Ramblers, Smith may be limited to blocking duty.

“There are going to be games this year where one or two guys may not get a touch,” St. Hilaire said. “If we’re having a power run game and not throwing, those receivers aren’t getting those touches.”

Beau Schmelzer backpedals during practice Tuesday in Winthrop. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan Buy this Photo

In the Ramblers’ offense, however, those chances tend to come back. In Week 2 against Camden Hills, Ryan Baird caught one pass for 2 yards. The next week against Oak Hill, he caught three passes for 55 yards, taking advantage of 1-on-1 matchups made necessary by the Raiders’ determination to load the box and stop the running game.

And that’s St. Hilaire’s message. It may not be your turn now. But it will be soon enough.

“We’ll come back. It may not be this quarter, it may not be this game,” he said. “We won’t forget about you.”


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.