When Ethan Squires walked into the Winthrop football team’s locker room for the first practice, he refused to trust his eyes.
“I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “I saw guys everywhere. Tons of them. I was like, ‘Oh my goodness.’ The first time I saw Cole Arsenault I nearly peed my pants.”
A new era in Winthrop football began Monday when the team opened practice as a co-op with Monmouth. The 6-foot-1, 265-pound Arsenault is one of about 30 Monmouth players who came out to play for coach Joel Stoneton.
The Ramblers will conclude the first week of practice with more than 60 players — nearly doubling their total from the end of last season.
“Coming into it, we didn’t know what to expect,” Stoneton said. “It’s a different situation because I’m looking at a ton of players I don’t know anything about. But it’s impressive. We have a lot of competition battles and we’ll be able to have depth and fresh legs this year.”
The Ramblers’ finished 2-6 last fall and are 5-11 in the last two seasons. Both ended without a playoff berth, but the addition of Monmouth puts the program in prime position to snap the slide.
“They brought some big guys,” said Winthrop senior running back Zach Glazier. “We’re going to have some big bodies up front. We have a lot of talent everywhere.”
Arsenault and fellow Monmouth senior Brandon Goff, who plays wide receiver, acknowledged they didn’t know what to expect when the season opened Monday.
“The first day, I was surprised with how the Winthrop guys opened up to us and took us in,” Arsenault said. “I wasn’t expecting it.”
Added Goff: “It’s been intense. It’s nothing like we’ve been used to. It’s been great, though. They’ve really taken us in.”
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Gardiner coach Matt Burgess said his team started the preseason with competition for about 20 starting spots.
“We only returned two starters from last year. We have a lot of spots up for grabs,” Burgess said.
Inside linebacker Brad Weston and right tackle Andrew Doody-Veilleux are the lone holdover starters from a Gardiner team that finished 6-4 and reached the Pine Tree Conference Class B semifinals.
Burgess said finding someone to replace quarterback Dennis Meehan is a top priority.
“There are a lot of guys trying to prove themselves,” Burgess said. “Certainly, replacing someone like Meehan is difficult to say the least. We do have some good, young talent, though.”
Sophomore Eli Fish, junior Matt McKenna and junior Josh McKelvey are vying for the starting quarterback job.
“Matt has the most experience and he throws the ball pretty good,” Burgess said. “Josh is a real smart athlete with good leadership skills that are showing up already. Eli is another young talent we have.”
Gardiner will head to Leavitt on Monday for a scrimmage, giving the trio another opportunity to state their case.
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Like Gardiner, Maranacook is also searching for a new starting quarterback.
Caleb Castonguay graduated, as did big tight end Andrew Lachance, leaving the Black Bears with some big holes to hill.
Cody Lyons and Kyle Morand are competing for the job.
“We’ll make a decision sometime next week,” Maranacook coach Joe Emery said. “They are pretty close. Both are working hard and both are capable of playing at the varsity level. Cody is handling the running back better and has more experience. Kyle is throwing the ball with more accuracy and also ran our 7-on-7 team. We’ll see.”
As for Lachance, Zach Bessette will help fill that void at tight end for the Black Bears, who went 5-4 last season.
Bill Stewart — 621-5640