AUGUSTA — Don’t settle.

It was a simple message Cony High School head football coach Robby Vachon had for his team as it began the 2014 season with its first practice Monday, but a meaningful one. The Rams captured the Class B state championship last fall and Vachon does not expect this year’s version of the team to simply rest on its laurels.

“I don’t want them to think that last year and the year before that was all for naught,” Vachon said. “It’s time for these kids now to step into new roles and kind of carry on what the kids before them have already established — especially with the offseason training.

“A lot of those kids that we have back this year have played for us for a couple years. They’re already used to it, they’re already accustomed to the system, but now there are some kids that are younger that are going to have to play some big roles for us on Friday nights.”

The graduation of quarterback Ben Lucas leaves an obvious void not only on the field, but as a presence in the locker room as well. That being said, veteran players — some with three and four years of varsity experience — are already stepping up.

“We’re not really a one leader kind of team,” junior Reid Shostak said. “We’re all leaders.”

“There’s captains, but at the end of the day, everybody’s a captain. Everybody is a leader,” echoed senior Tayler Carrier.

According to Vachon, Shostak, Carrier, Elias Younes and Elijah Tobey have all emerged as leaders early on for the Rams, which he said will be key in helping develop some of Cony’s younger players,

“For us not having a freshman program, it’s really important to take care of the younger kids. That’s a huge step for them coming from eighth grade and now they’re going to play a JV schedule,” Vachon said. “Tayler Carrier played varsity for us as a freshman, as did Reid. It doesn’t happen often. For our older kids to take care of those young kids and make them feel part of it, that’s huge for us.

“We’re putting a ton of pressure on our kids that are back from last year just to step into some leadership roles. That goes along with winning.”

• • •

While one team is looking to carry momentum from one season to the next, another is looking to make sure history does not repeat itself.

Gardiner struggled to an 0-8 record last season, but that was last season and the Tigers were focused on the present as they began training camp Monday.

“We’re not talking about last year,” Gardiner coach Matt Burgess said. “We’re talking about this year.”

The only thing — if anything — the Tigers are getting out of last season, is motivation.

“You think about it and it just gives us all the more incentive to work harder,” senior Andrew Doody-Vellieux said, “to do that extra rep, that extra set, that extra sprint and work harder than everyone else.”

On Monday morning Gardiner certainly did that, as it took part in conditioning exercises led by Marine Corps Sergeant Steven Webber and his crew.

“This started as a national campaign actually through the recruiting command as a way just to reach out to the high schools, get out into the sports programs,” Webber said. “What you’re seeing here is the physical fitness part, but it’s really more about the leadership seminar, the teamwork and that’s what we’re going to talk to them about afterwards.

“This is just to kind of get them in that mindset of working together and cheering each other on and trying to bring out the leaders in the community.”

The presence of Webber and his staff also served to amp up the intensity level for the first day.

“We love it,” Doody-Vellieux said. “They work us, get us loud and get us excited.”

It was not just the football team that took part in boot camp Monday though, as they were also joined by the Gardiner field hockey team.

“It’s been great so far,” coach Sharon Gallant said. “When I first told them about it there was a little bit of nervousness and this morning hearing from the sergeant they were again a little nervous, but they have just done a fabulous job. Everyone’s completed everything. They’ve given 110 percent, which is all any coach can ask for.”

• • •

Winthrop senior Jeremy Mihalkis trusted his coach.

Even after Joel Stoneton resigned as head coach of the Winthrop/Monmouth football team to become the Ramblers athletic director, Mihalkis trusted that Stoneton would leave the football team in good hands.

“I was surprised at first when I heard Stoneton was going to resign to become the AD, but I knew he’d leave us with a coach who could do exactly what he did and I think he did just that,” Mihalkis said. “Dave (St. Hilaire) is great.”

The Ramblers held their first practice under St. Hilaire on Monday and the first-year coached liked what he saw.

“We’re putting in a new offense and kids are adjusting to it well,” St. Hilaire said. “I’ve seen a lot of good things.”

The Ramblers’ new coach knew replacing a nine-year veteran like Stoneton would not be easy, but he has accepted that the former coach turned AD is still very much a part of the team.

“Joel’s still a part of this group,” St. Hilaire said. “He’s still coach to everyone and that’s the way we’re going to proceed.”

As far as what St. Hilaire stressed to his new players on day one, he laid out three things he’s looking from them going forward.

“The biggest thing is commitment, sacrifice, team,” he said. “We need those to be successful.”

• • •

Double sessions are never easy.

While necessary to get players ready in time for the start of the season, they make for long days — particularly coming off summer vacation.

“It’s always a little rough getting into double sessions,” Messalonskee senior quarterback Jake Dexter said, “but it’s good to be back.”

Getting back into the swing of things might not have been the easiest, but at least the Eagles could do so on one of the nicest fields in the state. For the second year in a row, Messalonskee opened training camp Monday at Colby College’s Alfond Stadium.

“I know one of the assistant coaches and plus No. 3, Jake Dexter, his father (Tom) is one of the assistant coaches so we lucked out,” Eagles coach Brad Bishop said. “I got hired at Messalonskee last year and said, ‘wouldn’t this be a great opportunity to practice up here.’ We don’t have pads on, obviously, but it’s easy on the feet, good on the knees and the kids enjoy it.”

“It feels really good playing out here,” senior Jack Bernatchez said. “Much better than our practice field back at school.”

If there were any problems with the Eagle’s practice field Monday, it was the number of players.

“We’re a little thin on numbers. We’ve got 12 freshmen and 20 upperclassmen, that’s it, but we’ve got some good skill kids and we’re going to find some linemen,” Bishop said. “We’ll be alright, we just can’t get anybody hurt, that’s all. I think we can be competitive.”

Evan Crawley — 621-5640

[email protected]

Twitter: Evan_Crawley

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