You’ve seen him at nearly every high school football game you’ve ever watched. He’s the player who looks too small, or too slow, to pay any heed.

Then he blows through a blocker to make a tackle, or runs past a defender, or makes the block that’s the difference between a big gain or nothing.

“I just like when they underestimate me,” Lawrence’s Jake Doolan said.

Whatever he has, it’s not measured with a stop watch or in the weight room. He has the intangibles and, in high school football, a dose of those can turn an average player into a play maker.

“It’s what makes high school football. If you don’t have those guys, you’ll have trouble,” Mt. Blue coach Gary Parlin said.

Parlin has one of those guys in senior offensive lineman Joe Welch. A backup at every line position except center, Welch was thrust into a starting role last week at Oceanside.

“Those guys, it’s how they prepare. (Welch) gets prepared just like he’s a starter. The other night, he didn’t know he was going to be a starter until almost game time, because Zach Faulkner was a game-time decision,” Parlin said. “Joe stepped in there. The second play we ran was a sweep where he had to pull around the corner, and he made a great block. When he’s in there, we really don’t think we lose anything.”

The way Welch sees it, the more he knows, the better chance he has to get in the game and prove he belongs in there.

“I come to every game ready. I know I have to be ready to go because I back up three positions. I have to know all the plays for those positions,” the 5-foot-11, 195-pound Welch said. “It was tough at the beginning of the year, but I worked through it, and pretty much know them all now.”

At Lawrence, coach John Hersom doesn’t have just one undersized player with a high football I.Q. in Jake Doolan, He has a nearly exact copy in Jake’s twin brother, Josh. The Doolans have become key players for the Bulldogs, thanks to their grit and determination.

“They started setting that example, that tone, on special teams last year,” Hersom said. “We really felt like we needed to get them both on the field… They have the instincts. They have all the heart that goes into being a good football player.”

Josh is listed at 5-7, 160 pounds, and plays linebacker and running back. Jake, an inch shorter than his brother, starts at wide receiver and at defensive end for the Bulldogs. Neither had played his defensive position before this season, and each had the same reaction when told his new spot.

“Coach (Hersom) told me I’d play linebacker, and I said, ‘Really?'” Josh said.

Added Jake: “When he told me I was playing defensive end, I said ‘Coach, you’re crazy.'”

At Oak Hill, coach Dave Wing decided the 5-5, 155-pound Donnie Vannah, a junior, would make a fine offensive guard and anchor the Raiders’ defensive line at the nose.

“He’s lightning quick and really strong,” Wing said. “We watched how tough and quick he was. He took to it right away.”

“I love it,” Vannah said of nose guard, which he’s played since his freshman year. “It’s a position that’s always in the action.”

Against Dirigo last week, Vannah frustrated the Cougars with his speed, often getting into the backfield before the quarterback had time to look downfield.

“There were a couple times he beat the center and had the quarterback before he was even away from the center,” Wing said.

Early in a game, an opponent might look at Vannah lined up across the line and think he’s in for an easy game.

“Toward the end of the game, they know they’ve got something to deal with,” Vannah said.

Like Vannah, the Doolan brothers know they’re going to be smaller than many of the opponents they face. They also know how to make that work to their advantage.

“They’re bigger than me, but I use my speed and technique,” Jake said. “We’re rugged. I’m lifting the same as most of the (bigger) kids on the team.”

Against Skowhegan’s run heavy double wing offense last Friday night, Jake set the edge over and over, preventing the Indians from running consistently to the outside.

“He just created a lot of havoc. He wouldn’t budge. He wouldn’t get driven out,” Hersom said. “We were shaking our heads. We couldn’t believe it.”

By changing positions so easily, the Doolans proved they have the football instincts that can’t be taught. Both were defensive backs before moving to their new defensive positions. On offense, Jake was a running back at the start of the preseason, before moving to quarterback, and now receiver.

“It’s about getting low. The low man wins. They can put me wherever they need me,” Josh said.

That’s another intangible, unselfishness.

“(Welch) never ever has complained. As a sophomore, he didn’t get a lot of playing time on JV’s,” Parlin said. “We got done our Cougar Camp, and Coach (Peter) Franchetti, who’s been his position coach ever since he was a sophomore, said ‘You know who’s going to be a valuable player for us, is Joe Welch.’ The other night, he stepped right in and had some great blocks early.”

The next time you see a big play from an athlete you didn’t expect to see do anything, you’ll start to ask yourself “How did he do that?” Except you’ll stop and remember that, every team has a few guys with the intangibles, and you’ll know it wasn’t a fluke.”

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]


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