H.S. Football Showcase: Marshwood’s Bryant looks to be even better in 2019

Mike Zhe mzhe@seacoastonline.com Posted Aug 31, 2019 

SOUTH BERWICK, Maine — There was no debate about how good Justin Bryant was last year.Screen Shot 2019-09-01 at 1.13.22 PM Screen Shot 2019-09-01 at 1.13.44 PM Screen Shot 2019-09-01 at 1.14.12 PM

As a bruising junior fullback on the Class B champion Marshwood High School football team, he racked up more than 1,100 rushing yards. He also started and thrived at outside linebacker on defense. He was honored by Seacoast Media Group as its Football Player of the Year in its 18-school coverage area.

So it might be a little scary to opponents when his coach says he also might be Marshwood’s most improved player heading into this season.

“It wasn’t unusual for him to come in after working all day and spend two hours in the weight room, and then go play basketball or whatever,” said coach Alex Rotsko. “He’s worked as hard as any kid we’ve had.”

The 6-foot-1, 210-pound Bryant, who was strong and durable enough to earn carries as a freshman, should be on the short list of Maine’s top players. He gained 1,154 yards and scored 16 rushing touchdowns last year, despite playing minimally after suffering an ankle injury in the regional final against Kennebunk, where he caught the go-ahead touchdown pass in a 14-13 win.

“Even going from last year to this year, he’s flipped a switch,” said classmate Connor Caverly, the team’s No. 1 quarterback and a starting defensive end. “He’s changed his whole workout, his whole diet. … He’s ready for this last season and he looks really good.”

He’ll get his share of carries in the Wing-T offense, as will Caverly, speedy senior John Valentine and new starter Cam Cornett.

Where Bryant’s role is different is on defense, where he shifts to inside linebacker after starting at outside backer for the first time last year.

“We lost two linebackers, but I don’t think we’ll have a big drop-off,” said Rotsko.

Bryant said the position change has been an adjustment.

“Outside backer, you can really flow fast over the top,” he said. “Inside backer, you’ve got to slow down, take your read steps and fit inside-out. That was kind of hard for me, because I’m used to go, go, go. I had to slow down and make sure I was fitting correctly.”

Last year was the first time he started on both sides of the ball.

“Freshman and sophomore year, they wanted me to learn the offense and get good at that, but I did ‘look’ team a lot,” he said. “Last year they put me in and I had to really learn. (Defensive coordinator Andrew) Elwell, he’s a really smart guy and he helped me out a lot. … It’s a really good defense.”

The biggest questions for Marshwood are on the lines, where it graduated a superb class of big, physical seniors. Tackle Michael Cruz is back, and Caverly played a lot at D-end, but there will be several new starters on both sides.

“It’s weird. It’s different,” said Caverly, who’s headed to UMaine on a baseball scholarship. “I’ve always been kind of that younger guy and now it’s going to be more of a leadership role and help other people learn.”

Marshwood has won four Class B championships since Rotsko took over as coach in 2012, including the last two and four of the last five.

Reclassification in Maine has introduced two new teams to the Hawks’ division and schedule — Portland and Deering — and they’ll also play at Class A power Thornton Academy. Those teams will get to meet Bryant for the first time.

“I think he’s going to be one of our most improved players, and he was already a three-year starter,” said Rotsko. “Just a lot of hard work. … I’m guessing he’s added a good 10-15 pounds of muscle and he was already a big, strong kid.”

Bryant says he’s leaning more toward entering the military after this year than playing college football. Either way, he wants to go out on top.

“I think we have a lot of potential as a team,” said Bryant. “We have a lot of, not young players, but players who haven’t played at the varsity level that are stepping up his year. It’s definitely different than last year but I think we’ll be successful.”


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