AUGUSTA — Like most, Cony High School head football coach B.L. Lippert makes a list before going to the grocery store.

Milk — check.

Eggs — check.

Starting defensive end — check.

During the offseason Lippert was unsure about whether or not senior Benaiah Willhoite, a home-schooled student who came out for football for the first time last season, would return to the Rams this fall. Lippert and his fellow coaches did make sure, though, that when they stopped into the Hannaford on Cony Street where Willhoite works that they made sure to see how he was doing.

“Most of the winter he said that he was going to be able to, and then he thought he was really going to have to buckle down and finish his home school work,” Lippert said. “He showed up the first day and we weren’t counting on him being here, and at 7:30 he came rolling in before our 8 a.m. practice. Needless to say, the coaches were pretty excited, some of the players were like, ‘wait, Benaiah’s here?!’

“That was good to see. He’s just a good leader and a really good player for us.”

Willhoite said he was on the fence about whether or not he would rejoin the Rams this season, as he was unsure whether football would interfere with his plans to join the Marines in January. Ultimately, he decided — with a little urging from coaches and teammates — to return for his senior season.

“I missed it, to tell you the truth,” Willhoite said. “It was 50-50 and finally a buddy talked to me, Joel Bennett, and he was like, ‘you can always go back to football and try it one more year.’ I was like, ‘well, I’ve got nothing to lose,’ so I’m here.”

Much like his job at Hannaford — which entails everything from stocking cases to cleaning in the meat department — Willhoite is not afraid to do the dirty work on the football field. He finally cracked the starting lineup at defensive end in the fourth game of last season against Lawrence and made a significant impact on the Cony defense. The 6-foot-tall, 200-pound senior finished the season with eight sacks and two blocked punts.

“He’s a strong kid. He’s always in the weight room,” Bennett said. “He’s just a key player because he’s got the big size for it, but yet he’s quick and he’s got agility. He can really take down a lot of quarterbacks and keep them contained, and if he can’t he can chase them down.”

Lippert said Willhoite was a quick study a season ago and hopes that he can pick up where he left off this season.

“You show him something once he’s pretty much got it and he brings an energy,” Lippert said. “Every day when we blow the whistle at practice he’s the first guy to run back from a water break or something of that nature. I think a lot of kids respond to that.

“He got some votes for a captain even though he wasn’t around a lot this offseason because he didn’t think he was going to come back to us and kids just respect him. He’s a natural leader in that way and certainly the Marines are going to get a good one whenever he does go with them.”

Willhoite said a career in the military was not always what he wanted to do — at first he wanted to be a pastor — but was ultimately swayed after attending a demonstration last Valentine’s Day. His brothers — Montana, 24, and Dakota, 22, — are also in the Army.

“I came and (the troops) worked out and it was a very, very intense workout,” Willhoite said. “I was like, ‘wow, I like this,’ so I continued coming and eventually they were like, ‘how about you sit down with some of the sergeants and we’ll just talk a little bit about what you want to do with your career and your life.’ So I sat down and there I was. I was like, ‘I like this.'”

Willhoite said once he departs he will be at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in Parris Island, S.C. for 13 weeks and then stationed “probably in Bangor.”

Before he leaves, though, he will be back for one more tour of terrorizing opposing quarterbacks in Pine Tree Conference B.

Evan Crawley — 621-5640

[email protected]

Twitter: @Evan_Crawley

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