WALES — Oak Hill High School football coach Stacen Doucette had a hunch that Gavin Rawstron would be starting games under center for his team. He’d had it for a while, going back before the season started. Before preseason scrimmages began. Even before Raider players first showed up to put on their pads and helmets.

He had it years ago, when Rawstron was 8-years-old and high school wasn’t even a blip on the horizon.

“My very first year here, my very first clinic at Oak Hill, we saw him throw a ball six years ago,” Doucette said, “and we knew someday he’d be our quarterback.”

Someday got here quickly. Rawstron won the Oak Hill starting job as a freshman and has shown steady signs of progress and promise, leading a Raiders offense that despite the team’s 2-3 record has clicked, scoring 23.6 points per game and keeping Oak Hill in the thick of a chase for a Class D South playoff spot.

“I think he’s done a good job of giving receivers ability to make plays,” Doucette said. “He also makes smart choices. I tell him every game ‘It’s OK to punt.’ Make smart choices and get rid of the ball in a timely fashion. … I think he does a pretty good job with that.”

The stats show it. Rawstron has passed for over 600 yards this season while throwing for 10 touchdowns and only two interceptions.

“He’s definitely building confidence, especially in his passing game. He’s more comfortable in the pocket,” senior wide receiver Darryn Bailey said. “I watched him in his eighth-grade year and he was better than everyone else out there. I think he was looking forward to his high school year so he could actually play to his potential, and he has.”

Rawstron started as a running back before switching to quarterback in elementary school, and quickly got hooked on playing the same position as cousin Parker Asselin, who guided the Raiders to a state title in 2013.

Better yet, quarterback wasn’t just the position Rawstron liked the most. It was also a perfect fit.

“I could throw the ball then,” he said, “but they also saw that, even then, I was leading the team and everyone followed me.”

It continued through elementary school, middle school and into the beginning of high school, where Doucette saw Rawstron’s smooth throwing motion, ability to escape from trouble and poise and knew he was watching a varsity player.

“I think in 7-on-7s we saw his arm strength, his decision-making,” he said. “Right from the first day of summer football we saw it.”

He became the starter soon after — and the anxieties with leading an offense of players two and three years his senior kicked in.

“I went home, and I was excited,” he said. “But at the same time, I was like ‘I’m about to go play against some grown men, as a 14-year-old.’ I was a little nervous.”

The nerves continued into the preseason, when Rawstron threw an interception — his first — on the first drive of a scrimmage against Dirigo. Discouragement began to seep in — until his teammates intervened.

“I was down on myself,” he said. “But everyone came over to me, ‘get out, next drive you’ll be fine, everyone throws an interception.’ I came out and threw like four straight passes that were completions, and we scored a touchdown.”

He’s been on the uptick since. He debuted with a strong showing (13-of-17, 181 yards, two touchdowns) against Poland and has only sharpened his game from there, turning himself into a more confident, assertive passer.

“At the beginning part of the year, I think he was throwing the ball with the idea that everyone had to catch it, so he was trying to catch it for them, so they were floating,” Doucette said. “Now he’s throwing with a little more velocity, a little more commitment, and the balls are coming out cleaner.”

Rawstron prefers to look at the improvements he’s made as a leader, going from being the tentative freshman to commanding teammates’ respect as their field general.

“The first two weeks, I was kind of quiet. I said much, but I wasn’t really leading anyone,” he said. “Now, even in the huddle, they’re all quiet and they listen to me.”

“He’s improved a lot,” senior right tackle D.J. Pushard said. “He’s not shy at all for a freshman, which is impressive. He knows a lot about the game.”

Aiding in the transition was that Oak Hill designed the pass plays to suit Rawstron’s abilities and comfort level, leading to a system built and geared for his (and any quarterback’s) success. Doucette says that the passing game works as a unit, and it shows; in five games, Rawstron hasn’t been sacked once.

“It’s a trust in him, but we’re also doing things to make him successful,” Doucette said. “We’re running plays that he’s very strong at, we are a pass protection-first type of team. Every pass play we put in our system works from pass protection out.”

The result is that Doucette is confident in the passing offense’s ability to perform, even in the face of pressure. On Saturday, Class D power Wells grabbed a quick 14-0 lead, forcing the Raiders to take to the air in pursuit of a rally. Rawstron guided the team 49 yards for one score, completing it with a 26-yard touchdown pass in which he was helped by a leaping grab by Bailey, and then 50 yards for another, finishing it off with a 31-yard touchdown pass to Caleb Treadwell.

“I think every game is a step for him,” Doucette said, “and he’s stepping in the right direction.”

There are still areas for improvement, or, at least, refinement. Leadership is the big one, as finding the right way to motivate and encourage the team is always a challenge.

“You always want to be soft-spoken so no one thinks you’re being mean to the team or anything,” Rawstron said. “Sometimes you have to get on some people’s cases to get them going.”

“As a freshman, I think it’s a different type of leadership,” said Doucette, himself a former high school quarterback. “I think you’re supposed to be positive, be a lot like a cheerleader, be enthusiastic and be happy for kids when they’re successful. If you do those things, kids will do their best for you and they’ll try for you and they’ll work hard for you.”

So far, so good.

“He’s the type of quarterback I tell something to once, and he picks it up and I don’t have to tell him again,” Doucette said. “So his sports IQ is high, athleticism is high and he’s willing to compete.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

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Twitter: @dbonifantMTM