Davin Mason, Jack Mallory, Matt Rice, and Devin Cole-Mason walk to football practice together on Wednesday at Telstar Regional High School in Bethel. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

The morale around Telstar’s football program was about as low as could be last season. 

The seniors hadn’t won a varsity football game. The school, in fact, hadn’t seen a varsity non-forfeit victory since 2013.

But Telstar was one of 10 schools that decided to move to eight-man football this season, eight-man’s first in Maine.

From that change, the attitude of the Telstar football program flipped 180 degrees. So did the Rebels’ success: After several years of not winning any games, they are 3-1 and have won three straight heading into Saturday night’s matchup with Traip (2-2).

“I think the morale is a lot different,” senior Devin Cole-Mason said. “Last year, it was down and no one wanted to be there, no one showed up. This year, the participation, everyone wants it and everyone is excited to play. It’s a much more positive environment.”

Coach Tim O’Connor felt the culture shift in the offseason. 

“We’ve had people working out in the gym,” O’Connor said. “We did a preseason workout in the summer and people bought into that, and we had some team-building activities, like some team dinners that parents helped out with.”

Senior lineman Jack Mallory said there were a few growing pains in the preseason, but soon realized that 11-man and eight-man football have more similarities than differences. 

“Our preseason is a lot of conditioning, not so much going into the mechanics of eight-man,” Mallory said. “We kind of went into the preseason scrimmages and it was kind of confusing, but once we got our feet under us it clicked right away. A lot of it works really nice and it’s really similar to 11-man football.”

Telstar’s offense returned some key veterans this season, including two senior linemen and junior quarterback Davin Mason. The move to eight-man football forced the coaches and players to do their research on what kind of formations to run and what works best on an offense, with so many shifts in number of linemen, receivers and backs. 

“They’ve made a good transition and they’ve definitely had stuff to learn,” O’Connor said. “It’s different formations, depending on how we are going to set up. … We’ve just researched what people have been doing in other parts of the country, like in Texas and Michigan and different places.”

Telstar likes to run and pass, and depending on what the defense shows them, the Rebels will adjust their line accordingly. 

“It hasn’t been too hard of a transition,” Cole-Mason said. “We know what we are doing, for the most part, and we have a lot of experience, so settling in wasn’t too hard. Just getting used to the different amount of players and figuring out who to block is the hard part about it; you need to talk more.”

Everyone around the Telstar program says they caught onto eight-man football quickly, and the results back that up. 

After falling in their first game to Old Orchard Beach, the Rebels found their stride and started their win streak with a 36-0 shutout victory over Sacopee Valley. That was followed by a 54-42 victory over Gray-New Gloucester.

Telstar then went on to defeat Boothbay in Week 4 in their homecoming game, 30-18, a win that meant a lot to the seniors. 

“I think there’s a lot of positive vibes on the team,” O’Connor said. “Everyone likes to win, but there’s that working together. Jack commented that he beat Boothbay and won his homecoming game for the first time.”

On offense, Mason has found a lot of success running behind his big line and has benefited from the decreased numbers in the secondary on throwing plays.

“A lot of it is trying to sit in the pocket more, and we have a really good line this year,” Mason said. “We just try to sit in the pocket and get good timing with the receivers. We try to spread the ball around and get in the open field. A lot of the time the defense likes to bring the blitz, which doesn’t really phase us too much.”

O’Connor credits Mason’s streaking offense in part to the offensive line that has thrived this season, whether they line up with three, four, or five players in front. 

“He’s improved a lot,” O’Connor said. “He’s cool, calm, collective in the pocket. It seems like he has more time in the pocket because our linemen are even better. He makes the read down the field and figures out what’s going on.”

While Telstar has 21 players, which allows some players to play strictly one side of the ball, many are still playing both offense and defense, and they realize the importance of tackling, considering all the added space. 

“There’s definitely a lot more space to run so making those tackles really counts,” Cole-Mason said. “It’s a lot more pressure on making those tackles and making sure we all do our job.”

Telstar is traveling to Traip on Saturday with a confidence not seen around the team in years. The success on the field is rooted in the energy and attitude from the team on and off the field, and now the eight-man state championship is in the Rebels’ sights. 

“As captains, it’s on us to make sure no one is hanging their head,” Mallory said. “That’s something that happened a lot last year, and now with us as captains, we are usually always on the field, at least one or two of us, so it gives the younger players something to look up to and know we are there. …  Bring it to the championship at this point, absolutely. We know we are capable.”


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