GARDINER — On the football field, Kolton Brochu delivers the hits. But the Gardiner Area High School safety and receiver knows how to take them, too.

That often means taking them from opponents, when sprinting headlong into traffic to make a catch or stepping up to hit a ballcarrier with a head of steam. But since the end of middle school, it’s also meant taking one from life.

Brochu is a type 1 diabetic, meaning his body doesn’t draw enough energy from sugars in food. So while many of his teammates can eat what they want, Brochu has to watch his diet. While the other Tigers are busy riling each other up before a big game, Brochu is off to the side, testing his blood to make sure everything checks out.

“I always have to check my blood before a game to make sure it’s all right. If it’s low or high I have to adjust for that,” he said. “While they’re worrying about the game, I’m worrying about myself.”

It’s a limitation — if you let it become one. Brochu doesn’t. He puts the medical kit away, puts his helmets and pads on and takes the field as one of Gardiner’s top players — and one of its toughest.

“He’s very much reserved. He saves it for when it’s most important, and that’s typically delivering a hit coming downhill from the safety position,” coach Joe White said. “He’s got an intensity that I admire, for a football guy who hits as hard as he does. And it can be contagious.”

Brochu — one of two players on the team with type 1 diabetes along with junior lineman Cam Austin — doesn’t know another way. He’s played football since he was five or six years old, and has been undersized pretty much every step of the way. Even now, at 5-10 and 165 pounds, he isn’t imposing when he takes his position behind the defense, but Brochu learned long ago that it’s better to play the part than to look it.

“I always feel like I need to be the enforcer on the field,” he said. “I always have to feel like I have to be quicker and give the extra effort, because I am fairly undersized, so I feel like I have to put in more work.”

That uphill battle got steeper after the eighth grade season. Brochu, who also wrestled, had developed a cough that lingered for six months, and out of nowhere, he lost 10 pounds despite eating and drinking more than he had before.

Something was wrong, and after having himself looked at, Brochu had his answer. Type 1 diabetes takes away the body’s ability to regulate food sugars, so those with the condition have to do it manually. That means eating or drinking something sugary when the blood sugar levels become too low, and injecting insulin when they become too high, and checking over and over again — in Brochu’s case, at least four or five times a day.

Sports can become a casualty of the condition. But Brochu never gave up football, and puts up with the blood checks before and during games to keep playing.

“I usually have to check during the game because it fluctuates all the time and it’s sometimes hard to control during that kind of atmosphere, during a football game,” Brochu said. “If my blood sugar levels are off, I don’t play at my full potential.”

Those checks aren’t always easy to work into the flow of a game.

“Last game, I was checking it and then we threw a pick, so I had to go back on defense,” he said. “I was in the middle of checking my blood, so I had to throw it down and go back onto the field.

“Every once in a while it gets in the way, but you get used to it after a while.”

It has no effect on the field, where Brochu has a nose for the ball and a bullseye on whoever is carrying it. He uses every pound he has when jarring running backs and wide receivers, and looks to to make sure his hits leave a mark.

“I love playing safety. I can come downhill, unblocked usually, and make tackles in space,” he said. “It gets my aggressive side out because I can build up speed behind me and hit some people. … It makes people think when they’re coming downhill that you can hit them pretty hard.”

“You don’t realize it until you get thumped,” White said. “I’m sure I wouldn’t want to have to run a toss or something off tackle knowing that was coming downhill.”

He’s not just a bruiser. Brochu is one of Gardiner’s best athletes, and thrives in coverage from the safety spot as well.

“It’s very reassuring,” said Collin Foye, who plays in front of Brochu as a cornerback. “If I drop someone, he’ll come and clean it up. … Not many people are getting past him.”

It translates on offense, where he’s one of quarterback Cole Heaberlin’s go-to targets in the passing game.

“He’s certainly a kid that I want in a situation to catch a pass, especially when a big play calls for it,” White said. “He’s got great hands, and his instincts are just as good, quickness is just as good, strength is the same on the offensive side of the ball.”

The abilities are matched by his toughness, and diabetes are only part of the picture. In one of the pivotal plays against Morse in the first game of the season, he raced down the field on punt coverage and rocked the Shipbuilders’ punt returner, causing a fumble that the Tigers recovered.

While his teammates celebrated, however, Brochu struggled to catch his breath. He bruised his sternum on the hit, and though he was back by Morse’s next drive, the pain wasn’t fading.

“The wind knocked right out of me and then I went down, and then I was sitting there for a second because I couldn’t move,” he said. “It got worse after the game. … I had to get X-rays for it to make sure it wasn’t cracked at all. Because if it was cracked, they told me that my season might be over with.”

He was in uniform for the next game against Cape, and once again found himself coming through in a big moment, making a 32-yard catch to set up Gardiner’s final touchdown drive. The injury was another obstacle to overcome, but then again, Brochu’s been doing that for years.

“It’s the only way to play football,” he said. “It’s a demanding sport, so you have to fight through some pains. Everyone has them out here.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

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Twitter: @dbonifantMTM