FARMINGTON — In the Mt. Blue football team’s offensive backfield, Christian Whitney is the speed, and Alex Gilbert is, well, he’s the speed, too. Zach Meader, while not quite as fast as either Whitney or Gilbert, may as well be the speed, too. The trio of seniors give the Cougars three running backs capable of breaking big plays at any time in a game, and that has head coach Jim Aylward celebrating his embarrassment of riches.

“It’s a great luxury. They’re all three kids who started or played much of the time last year,” Aylward said. “At the beginning of the year, when we were trying to get the team going, we realized we were inexperienced on the line. It’s nice to have the backs who know the offense and can make plays while we’re trying to gel in front of them.”

The Whitney-Gilbert-Meader trio has accounted for 807 of 989 rushing yards and nine of the Cougars’ 10 rushing touchdowns. Each averages at least 5.5 yards per carry. That success running the ball helped Mt. Blue go 3-1 over the first half of the Pine Tree Conference Class B season. The Cougars host Gardiner on Friday night.

Sharing the running load is nothing new for the trio. They’ve been doing it since becoming teammates in seventh grade. Before that, though, it was Meader and Whitney on one side, and Gilbert on the other, in youth football.

“Christian and me were on the Patriots and Alex was on the Giants, and we were rivals. It was fun playing against each other,” Meader said.

“We just have an understanding of each other. We’ve been playing with each other since seventh grade on, and even then we had go chemistry,” Gilbert said. “It’s just been the way it’s been since then. We’re comfortable with each other and we’re not selfish at all when it comes to blocking for each other.”

Whitney, who missed Wednesday’s practice with an illness, leads the Cougars with 387 yards rushing and five touchdowns. Meader has 264 yards rushing and a pair of touchdowns. Gilbert has 156 yards rushing and leads the trio in receiving, with 152 yards on a team-high eight catches. He is a strong edge blocker.

Meader said the trio’s greatest similarity is that they don’t shy away from contact.

“We all know how to lower our shoulder and get through people. A lot of running backs these days stop or try to use their quick moves to get around people. We block for each other,” Meader said.

“They all have two similar abilities: They can make big plays with their speed and they can catch the ball. They’re very similar backs,” Aylward added. “Zach’s (a) fullback basically because he’s a little less speedy than the others. When we moved Christian to tailback, we thought he’d be a good north-south runner, which has proven to be true. Alex is a kid we can throw to or use on reverses on the perimeter.”

If there’s any friendly rivalry, minor trash-talking over who has more touchdowns, for example, it’s not serious.

“It hasn’t been brought up yet,” Gilbert said. “We joke around a little bit.”

Carries have been split fairly evenly between the three backs (56 for Whitney, 49 for Meader, 21 for Gilbert). None has carried the ball more than 16 times in a game (Whitney, against Brewer in Week 2). Until Whitney ran for 143 yards on 15 carries in last week’s 32-6 win at Hampden, no Mt. Blue runner had gained 100 yards in a game this season.

“We like all three as playmakers. When we ride one too hard, we realize we have two other options to go to, plus we have (wide receiver) Nate Pratt-Holt,” Aylward said. “It’s a great luxury to know when you have to take one out, you have other kids with experience to carry the ball in a varsity game.”

According to Meader and Gilbert, Mt. Blue’s seniors didn’t lose a game together as starters from the start of seventh grade until that Week 2 loss to Brewer. The Cougars feel they’ll continue to improve in the second half of the season.

“The sky’s the limit for us. I don’t see us slowing down. There’s things we can work on. We haven’t had a perfect week yet,” Gilbert said.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

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