WINTHROP — During the fall of 2020, Maine went to a seven-on-seven football playing style that largely left out the linemen on each team.
One day a week, Ramblers head coach Dave St. Hilaire and the coaching staff would work with the linemen on their technique and run them through drills. What did the linemen do the rest of the week?
Hit the weight room.
“That whole year we did lifting,” senior offensive and defensive lineman Jake Umberhind said. “We all did lifting and our coach Mark Feith got us in there. We just started working out. After our sophomore year, losing in the playoffs, we’ve had a fire in our souls to win and this is the year, it’s looking like it.”
St. Hilaire said the weight room was crucial in the linemen’s development during last year’s season.
“We were fortunate, unlike other schools, that we could lift in the weight room,” St. Hilaire said, adding that first it was just Winthrop athletes allowed in the weight room before other schools were admitted. “Anytime you have great success running the ball, a big part of it is having linemen in the weight room. They were there every day and you could see the way they were lifting was improving. We continued that throughout the summer. We had guys there that earned playing time by working in the weight room. It was great to see so many kids. What else are you going to do? You aren’t playing, so why not lift weights. It’s not always the most fun thing but credit to the leadership of the upperclassmen to get the other guys in the weight room.”
Still, even with many linemen working out in the weight room throughout the fall and beyond, St. Hilaire and the staff weren’t sure who they could rely on on the offensive line.
They knew Umberhind would be a pillar at guard, but after that they weren’t quite sure.
Then, the Ramblers played Bucksport in Week 1 and things became a lot more clear.
“Two years ago, Jake was the only one that got reps on the offensive line and the other was Jacob Neal, who is now a tight end,” St. Hilaire said. “We had freshmen become sophomores, didn’t know if they were ready. We had JV kids and so we knew Jake is back, we know Neal can block at tight end but what else? The two tackles, Sam Bourne and Jayden Peters, were JV guys who really hadn’t shown they were ready for varsity and we didn’t know what we had. In the preseason, we found out we were pretty good but then against Bucksport in Week 1 we found out that boy, our line is going to be physical. From tackle to tight end, we can be physical.”
At the start of the season, center Liam Burgess was ready to get on the field and be physical. Burgess said it takes a certain mindset to be a lineman and that he missed the contact.
“When you’re man-handling someone, that’s the best feeling in the world,” Burgess said. “The physicality, it’s the biggest thing I missed. Not being able to hit someone during football season, it doesn’t feel right. If you’re not all there mentally, you might as well sit on the bench.”
“What drives the line is just physically dominating the other team, the defense,” Umberhind added. “Just plowing a kid over, pancaking him, that’s really what drives you. When they get mad at you, when they get up in your grill, that’s when you know you’ve won.”
The offensive line has helped open up holes for running backs Logan Baird, Dom Trott and Robbie Feeney, who have combined for 1,694 yards and 26 rushing touchdowns.
But on defense, the line has moved from a five-man front to a four-man front. Burgess has also moved to the defensive line over the last couple weeks to help.
“I like how flexible we are, moving fronts and knowing our assignments,” Burgess said of the defense.
For Umberhind, the communication on both sides of the line has been what has stuck out the most for the senior.
“Just the thing I have noticed is the communication within each other and being able to call plays and covering who we need to cover,” Umberhind said. “Specifically for offense, we have really locked in our communication so now we don’t have as many missed blocks. You can be big and strong and everything, but if you don’t know who you’re blocking then your line is not going to be good.”
St. Hilaire said the defensive line frees up Trott, who also plays linebacker, and that the team has given up 600 rushing yards at just 2.9 yards per carry.
Against Foxcroft Academy in the regular season, Trott and Baird ran for just 50 yards on 13 carries. The Ramblers hope to run better on Friday in the Class D championship game against the Ponies.
“Secondary coverage I think will be a big thing,” Umberhind said. “We also need to know who we are blocking because they came at us with a (three-man) front.”
“We came out super flat so we need to come out in all four quarters ready to play,” Burgess added.