Winthrop High School senior Andrew Foster entered the preseason expecting to be given the keys to the offense as the Winthrop/Monmouth/Hall-Dale starting at quarterback.

At the Ramblers’ first practice, however, he was told he was going to compete with junior Owen Harding for the starting QB job. That made Foster more focused on doing everything necessary to earn the spot.

“At first I came into the year thinking, ‘Oh, I have the spot, I’m a senior,’” Foster said. “When he told us it was a battle, it got to me and I realized I had to start going harder. I started focusing up and making sure I was ready. It made me change my mindset and really focus on it. We both got better from it, definitely.”

The competition extended through practices and preseason matchups against Nokomis and Lisbon before Ramblers head coach Dave St. Hilaire picked Foster to be the starting QB.

“I learned I got the job three days ago after our Lisbon and Nokomis games,” Foster said. “He called me up and told me. We were fighting it for a couple weeks and we had a good battle, me and Owen. It only made both of us better, honestly. It was competition and it was good for us.”

Foster will lead the Ramblers into their first game of the season, at home Friday against Bucksport, the 2019 runner-ups in Class D.

During 2020’s seven-on-seven flag football season in Maine, Winthrop/Monmouth/Hall-Dale focused on its passing game, and that experience has transferred nicely to this year’s preseason.

Foster will run the offense behind a large offensive line.

Winthrop/Monmouth/Hall-Dale has two offensive tackles who St. Hilaire said are “6-4, 6-5, 280 pounds,” in Sam Bourne and Jayden Peters. Senior guard Jake Umberhind is even bigger. 

“He’s 340. He is a cheerleader in the winter and he can do feet to feet, cartwheel, a handstand,” St. Hilaire said. “He’s something else.”

Umberhind was the only sophomore on the All-Campbell Conference team in 2019, when he made 16 tackles for loss on the defensive side of the ball.

While the pass game should be improved and the Ramblers believe in Foster’s ability to lead the offense, the offense also boasts three running backs who all have the confidence of St. Hilaire and the coaching staff. 

“Two years ago, we ran for 20 touchdowns and threw for 20,” St. Hilaire said. “We have power, we have scat backs. We can line up with two backs and our fullback is the most complete fullback you’d ever want to see, in Dominic Trott. He’s got great hands, can block, is a hard runner and just wants to hit people.

“Logan Baird has shifty moves and can get to the outside and do it all himself with his cuts and is a good downhill runner. Robbie Feeney gets in there and is pretty fast and has good hands. We’re pretty comfortable with who we run out there. We can run people out of the slot or out of the back.”

Flexibility is a recurring theme throughout the the Ramblers’ position groups. That extends to the defense.

“Our defensive line is very versatile,” senior defensive end Ethan Neal, who attends Monmouth Academy, said. “We have a lot of guys we can cycle through constantly when one dude is tired or a little injured. We have a lot of changes. We have a fast lineup, a big lineup, a bear lineup, it’s interchangeable and we can do a lot of things.”

Neal joins Umberhind on the defensive line. Neal used to play defensive tackle due to his large frame. But over time, Neal has transformed himself into an energetic defensive end.

“We’ve got Ethan Neal at defensive end (now), and he’s changed his body type,” St. Hilaire said. “He was kind of a lineman-type a couple years ago, and he’s become a workout warrior and is 100 percent, 100 percent of the time and has non-stop energy.”

Behind Neal and Umberhind is Trott at linebacker — “heat-seeking missile” St. Hilaire said of Trott. In the secondary, the Ramblers rotate several veteran players, though cornerbacks Baird and Brayden Stubbert have stood out to St. Hilaire, as has Nick Keezer, who moved from corner to safety.

St. Hilaire said the energy around the team has been increasing the closer the team has gotten to Friday’s season opener.

Some players were junior varsity or even in middle school the last time Winthrop/Monmouth/Hall-Dale snapped a ball in 11-man football. Getting everyone on the same page has been the focus, but players and the coaching staff are feeling more and more confident. 

“We’re not where we want to be because it’s just taken a little bit of time to get the younger guys into it,” St. Hilaire said. “We’re in the right direction. Bucksport has three running backs that ran for 1,800 yards and 27 touchdowns in 2019, and they’re returning, but we’ve got a good game plan to hopefully neutralize them and we have speed in a lot of places. It’s about executing every play.”

Adds Foster: “We know every other team is going through the same thing right now. Everyone has new kids, we just need to make sure that we’re working the hardest. Everybody’s in the same situation. Sophomores, freshmen, we haven’t played tackle football in a couple years, so we just need to come prepared.”

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