LINEBACKERS: Zach Doyan, Zach Mitchell, Jackson Howath, and Brett Gerry
Confident group ready to carve path to state final
By Mike Zhe
August 27, 2014 2:00 AM
SOUTH BERWICK, Maine — It was a dress rehearsal for a group of guys who’ve been nailing most of their lines for over two years now.
The Marshwood High School football team took to the field Monday for a full day that included both team pictures and a scrimmage against Noble. With 13 starters back from a squad that reached its second straight Western Maine Class B championship game last fall, hopes were as high as the temperature.
And it was a hot day.
Maybe no positional group inspires as much confidence as the linebackers, a unit that combines speed, strength and experience. Inside backers Jackson Howarth and Zach Mitchell, and outside backers Brett Gerry and Zach Doyon combine to form one of the state’s best second lines of defense in the 4-4 system.
“Everyone’s pretty much got their positions down at this point, especially in the linebacker group because we’ve been playing together for three years now,” said Mitchell, a 6-foot-1, 230-pound junior who’s been starting since he was a freshman. “We’re pretty much ready to go.”
Where do the Hawks want to go this year, with seven starters back on defense and six on offense? All the way to the state title is the hope, after going 10-2 and 8-3 in Alex Rotsko’s first two years as coach, winning one regional title (2012) and finishing as the runner-up to senior-laden Kennebunk last year.
“They’re the key to our defense, for sure,” said Rotsko. “The last two years we’ve played well defensively and those guys are the leaders of that group.”
Gerry and Howarth are co-captains and accomplished wrestlers, each owning state titles in their weight class. Like Mitchell, both can bench more than 300 pounds, according to the coach. But they also possess good quickness as a group, both laterally and north-south, to get to opposing ball carriers.
“(Mitchell) is probably the fastest kid on the team,” said Gerry, who’s also rushed for more than 1,000 years in each of the last two seasons. “To have him running around in the middle, just killing people … and Jackson’s not as big but just understands everything we’re trying to do as a defense. He really leads the mental part of our defense, our assignments.”
Doyon, a 6-foot-1 junior whose frame teases the basketball he plays in the winter, is starting on defense for the second straight year. He should also see a bigger role in the offensive backfield as a halfback in the run-oriented Wing-T.
“Doyon is fast and a really good pass-covering person,” said Gerry. “He can come up and play on the run and just shuts receivers down. It takes some of the pressure off our defensive backs who aren’t that experienced.”
“It helps a lot playing behind Brett and Jackson, offensively and defensively,” said Doyon. “They help me out a lot, make sure I’m doing the right thing. I feel I’ve gotten a lot better from last year to this year.”
Defensive linemen Nick Dalecki and Brian MacDonald, and defensive back Ryan O’Neil are the other returning starters on defense.
The Hawks only played one real bad defensive game last year, in the regional final at Kennebunk, when they couldn’t stop the Rams’ read-option at all in the first half. That 41-14 loss has fueled this year’s motivation.
“We just have to play together and do our jobs, do our assignments,” said Howarth. “It’s not just the running backs or not just the linebackers; we’ve all got to do our jobs and execute. If we can, I feel we can make it to that gold ball.”
And the linebackers will lead the way.
“I would say this is the fastest group we’ve had over the last three years,” said Mitchell. “I’d also say it’s the hardest-hitting. We’re pretty excited about it.”
“With the help of the (defensive line), this linebacker group can do some special things this year,” said Gerry. “We can really be good.”
8 Teams in 8 Days: MARSHWOOD
League: Western Maine Class B
Coach: Alex Rotsko, 3rd season
2013 record: 8-3, lost to Kennebunk in regional championship
Last playoff appearance: 2013
State championships: 1966, 1971, 1972, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1981, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989
Dates to circle: Sept. 26 (vs. Kennebunk), Oct. 3 (vs. Messalonskee), Oct. 24 (vs. York)
Snapshot: Most of the pieces seem to be in place for the Hawks to challenge again in Western B. Six starters return on offense, including 1,000-yard rusher Brett Gerry, and seven on defense. … Training camp has featured a battle for the starting QB job. Incumbent Luc Blanchette is being challenged by 6-foot senior Kyle Parmley, who is more of a throwing threat. Both are seniors. “They split time (in Monday’s scrimmage against Noble) and our plan is to split time again on Friday (in a scrimmage),” said Rotsko, who said he’ll make a decision after that. … Blanchette, Gerry, FB/LB Jackson Howarth and OL/DL Nick Dalecki are serving as captains. … The Hawks host Portsmouth, a New Hampshire Division I team, in a scrimmage Friday at 6 p.m. The opener is Sept. 5 at home against Greely, a playoff team last year.