GARDINER — It’s Tuesday afternoon, and members of the Gardiner football team making their way to the practice field in preparation of one of the toughest days of the week.

First, they stretch. Then, it’s challenge time.

“We’ve worked hard to develop a constant state of competition,” Gardiner coach Matt Burgess says. “We allow the best players to play. Every Tuesday we have open competition. Anyone can challenge anyone on defense for a starting job. We are working on the premise that anyone could play at any time. That’s where we’re at.”

With just five seniors on the roster, the Tigers are so young that no one’s job is safe.

And that suits Brad Weston and Andrew Doody-Veilleux — the lone returning starters from last season — just fine.

Weston plays inside linebacker while Doody-Veilleux starts at defensive tackle. The two juniors say they welcome challenge days, although neither plans to give up their spots.

“We still have to fight for jobs and that’s OK with me,” Weston said. “I’ll fight for it until there’s nothing left of me.”

Added Doody-Veilleux: “Not a chance. However, if someone earns it and beats me more power to them. But I plan on staying where I’m at.”

During challenge days, players break into specialty groups — linebackers in one area, defensive linemen in another, for example — and it’s game on.

“We’re full pads Tuesdays,” Weston said. “We hit at the beginning of practice. We get in our groups and we fight for our spots. We have one-on-one drills with a board in the middle. Whoever pushes who, wins. We have one-on-one tackle drills, too. It’s a lot of fun. It keeps us all hungry.”

The Tigers opened the season with a 29-8 loss to Lawrence in Fairfield. Up next is the home opener Friday night against another tough opponent, Brunswick (1-0).

The schedule full of tough matchups for Gardiner, which make the roles Weston and Doody-Veilleux play all the more important.

“I expected them to compete and show the other kids what it means to be a starter,” Burgess said. “It’s a privilege and an honor. But they are still juniors and are still learning to be varsity football players themselves. Last year, they were young and were surrounded by a lot of older guys.”

Weston, who emerged as a threat in the backfield by rushing for 151 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries against Lawrence, and Doody-Veilleux embrace their new roles as veterans on a young team that is trying to find its way in the made-over Pine Tree Conference Class B.

“There’s only two of us,” Weston said. “We’re young. Very young. But it’s going to be a fun year. Coming from last season’s experience, it’s going to be tough trying to get the whole team to do everything like last year’s team. But I’m confident we’ll have a good team.”

Doody-Veilleux anchors a line that features plenty of new faces, including Orion Seraph and Brandon Moore.

“I like having the young guys around,” he said. “They get the chance to earn their spot. They don’t even know how to make mistakes yet. This year is just a lot different. The older guys last year, they passed on a lot to me and Brad and now we’re passing it on.”

Weston opened the season as the starting fullback. His primary role was to provide the blocking for Treavon Horton and Tyler Caron.

However, after a dismal first half at Keyes Field on Friday, Burgess decided to let Weston carry the ball more.

The 6-foot-1, 246-pound Weston responded. He rushed for 131 yards in the second half and his role is set to expand Friday at Hoch Field.

“He’s probably going to play a little more running back after that game Friday night,” Burgess said.

Added Weston: I like carrying the football. When I got in, I was thinking that his could be my chance. I got excited and pumped. I knew I had to do something. “I put a lot of pressure on myself. I have to work hard all the time. We’re so young this year so we have to work extra hard.”

Bill Stewart — 621-5640

[email protected]

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