At times last season, Gardiner Area High School’s Eli Kropp and Winthrop/Monmouth’s Matt Ingram took their lumps in their first campaigns as starting quarterbacks.

As each prepares for their second varsity seasons under center, though, the two juniors seem ready to take the next step with their respective teams.

“I feel confident that he’s ready. He’s a quiet leader and he’s good mechanically,” Gardiner coach Joe White said of his quarterback. “Instead of coming up and thinking about the play and where you’ve got to go, he can take his time, make sure everybody is set. There’s a little more maturity there. He can recognize the cover three or the cover two look. He’s a little more patient.”

Physically, Kropp has grown since last season, but it is the mental part of the game where the Tigers’ QB has likely made the biggest strides. In addition to offseason workouts, he also attended a USA football camp along with classmate Kaleb Caron.

“Last year I was really nervous starting as a sophomore, but this year I think I’m ready to go and I’m really excited for this season,” Kropp said. “I’m feeling really confident with this year’s team.”

Like Kropp, Ingram also did his fair share of offseason work. In addition to the Leavitt 7-on-7 league and a camp at Marshwood High School with a number of teammates, Ingram also attended a camp hosted by former Portland High standout Quinton Porter.

“It’s been a lot of reps, so a lot of repetition helps to get to know the plays that we were doing, getting into the motion of where I need to throw,” Ingram said. “I can read the defense a lot better, I know when to tuck and run. I can read where to throw a lot better this year.”

Both White and Winthrop/Monmouth coach Dave St. Hilaire lauded their quarterbacks for being strong in the classroom, which will certainly help in the signal callers’ second seasons under center.

“He’s a cerebral quarterback but he’s strong,” St. Hilaire said of Ingram. “He’s stronger than most quarterbacks and he can run, he can throw — he’s a dual threat.”

• • •

While Gardiner and Winthrop/Monmouth wait for their quarterbacks to take the next step this season, Oak Hill coach Stacen Doucette saw Raiders’ senior quarterback Dalton Therrien show significant signs of improvement during the team’s march to the Class D championship last fall.

“At the end of the year last year during the playoff run I thought Dalton played as good as any quarterback in the state,” Doucette said. “I thought he took care of the ball, he led the team and we won our games on the backs of Alex (Mace) and Kyle (Flaherty), but Dalton was a part of it.

“This year we’re going to expand on that role because he’s picked up where he left off and he’s got the leadership qualities. He’s the go-to guy this year.”

The Raiders opened preseason play with an exhibition contest at Lisbon on Monday afternoon, and Therrien and the Oak Hill offense looked sharp in its opening 12-play series. Therrien completed 1-of-2 passes for eight yards on the 85-yard drive, and also rushed for 20 yards on a read-option look.

“He’s always had a vertical game as a passer but now he’s starting to develop a little bit of touch, so the mid-game and the short game (is where) he’s starting to look he really good,” Doucette said. “His strength is mobility. He’s a very good athlete and he spends more time in the weight room than most kids in most programs. He can handle the day in and day out rigorous part of the football game.”

• • •

For the first time in four years Cony has opened a preseason not knowing who will be its starting quarterback when the regular season begins.

Junior Taylor Heath, who saw time with the varsity last season as a sophomore wide receiver, has had a slight edge over classmate Kolton Vining, a Mt. Blue transfer who was the junior varsity starter for the Cougars a season ago.

Each are trying to replace Mitchell Caron, who completed 193-of-312 passes for 2,542 yards and 22 touchdowns and also rushed for 369 yards and seven touchdowns on 100 carries last season in his only year as the Rams’ starter.

“They’re both juniors and they’re battling it out right now,” Cony coach B.L. Lippert said. “Heath’s probably one to Kolton’s 1b or 1a. We’ll see how the scrimmage and the exhibition game play out because Taylor is also a very, very good wide receiver, so that’s also a possibility as well.”

Heath got some repetitions at quarterback last season, but for the most part spent his time at wide receiver as Lippert was comfortable with Caron despite limited action at the position behind Ben Lucas during his junior season. Heath did say, though, that his experience at wide receiver has helped in the transition process.

“It really helps with timing, because at wide receiver I was running routes so I know when to throw it for their routes,” Heath said.

In addition to getting used to a new school, Vining has also had to get accustomed to a vastly different offense as few teams in the state have thrown the ball with as much frequency as the Rams in recent years.

“It’s a lot different, a lot more throwing,” Vining said. “There’s been a lot of transitioning and some stuff has been hard.”

• • •

Around the state: Defending Class B state champion Marshwood will take on Portsmouth, N.H. in its exhibition game on Friday. Noble and York will also play an exhibition against a New Hampshire school. Noble will face Somersworth, while York will take on St. Thomas Aquanis of Dover, N.H. … Lawrence will play an exhibition game at South Portland on Friday. These teams met in the state championship game in 1992 and 1996, with South Portland winning each game.

Staff writer Travis Lazarczyk contributed to this report.

Evan Crawley — 621-5640

[email protected]

Twitter: @Evan_Crawley

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