FAIRFIELD — John Hersom uses plenty of superlatives when describing Lawrence High School senior captain Gunner McAllister. They’re all things you’ve heard dozens of football coaches say about dozens of good players over the years. Then, Hersom pays McAllister a compliment you almost never hear from a high school football coach.

“He’s almost got like a coach’s tone,” Hersom says. “Whether it be in the locker room, out on the field, communicating in the secondary, he’s inspiring kids to keep working, keep pushing. He’s got that tone. Those are the things I appreciate, because you don’t find too many high school kids that are willing to do all those things.”

“I like to keep the guys in line. Obviously, being a captain, you have to be one of the more mature kids on the team. I think all the guys on the team respect me. I’m there for them and they’re there for me. It’s a brotherhood. We’re tight. I tend to get after some of the kids that fool around more,” McAllister says.

Generously listed on the Lawrence roster at 5-foot-9, 160 pounds, McAllister is a testament to his own hard work. At the start of the 2015 season, he was playing with the junior varsity. By the end of the season, he was contributing in varsity games. This season, McAllister is a captain and arguably the best player on a Lawrence team going for its sixth consecutive win when it hosts rival Messalonskee in the regular season finale Friday night.

“I feel like I’ve improved the past four years for this year,” McAllister says.

While it’s the intangibles that make McAllister a complete player, his stats aren’t bad, either. He leads the Bulldogs in rushing, with 583 yards and seven touchdowns on 40 carries, a 14.5 per carry average. McAllister also has nine catches for 89 yards. He averages 21.4 yards per punt return and 23.6 yards per kick return. As Lawrence’s punter, he averages 34.6 yards per punt.

“I enjoy doing those (returns). I take pride in doing those,” McAllister says.

As a safety on Lawrence’s defense, McAllister has had the most impact. His eight interceptions lead the Pine Tree Conference Class B division. McAllister has shown an innate nose for the ball. In Lawrence’s last game against Nokomis, McAllister had two picks, returning both for touchdowns, although a Lawrence penalty negated one score.

“I focus hard on getting my assignments done, doing what I can, and doing it correctly,” McAllister says. “It’s just a matter of reading the quarterback. We have an absolutely amazing defensive coach, Coach (Jake) Rodgers. I give him a lot of credit because, man, he does pound it into our heads. We know what we’re supposed to be doing when we take that field every Friday night.”

Adds Hersom: “He has great instincts. It doesn’t matter if he’s covering in the secondary or if he’s run supporting. It doesn’t matter if he’s catching punts or kicks. Running with the football or receiving, he’s just a natural athlete. He’s got great ball skills. He’s got all those natural instincts to do all the things we’re asking on a football field.”

In a 36-12 win over Cony on Sept. 23, McAllister had three interceptions. It wasn’t a case of Cony quarterback Taylor Heath missing his throws. Rather, McAllister read the plays exceptionally well, closing on what appeared to be open receivers to make the play. McAllister says he was focused on helping the coverage on Jordan Roddy, Cony’s star receiver.

“I focused on Jordan Roddy, because he’s one of their better players, and shutting him down really made me feel good about myself,” he says.

“He did a nice job reading the quarterback’s eyes. The first one was under-thrown, the second was overthrown, and the third one he sort of jumped in front of it,” Cony coach B.L. Lippert says. “We saw on film, he looked pretty good. When we were on the field live, his speed is pretty sensational.”

McAllister also returned a punt for a touchdown against the Rams.

“That really was the knockout punch. He’d like to play Cony every night, I’m guessing,” Lippert says.

McAllister fell in love with football as a youth player in Fairfield’s PAL program. While he was one of the smallest players, McAllister also was one of the fastest, too.

“I was quick, so kids had trouble catching me. It was easy. It would come easy for me. I just had a hell of a time. I remember getting the ball on 42 Power. That was my play, every time. It would be touchdown, touchdown, touchdown. I wish I could go back,” McAllister says.

McAllister also played soccer in the youth leagues, and when he got to junior high, he had to make a choice.

“All my friends wanted me to play soccer. There was that other side that really wanted me to play football. I loved both sports, but in the end I had to stick with football. I’m more of an aggressive player. Soccer is a great sport, but football is where it was at for me. Overall, it was just fun,” McAllister says.

The problem was, McAllister’s body hadn’t caught up with his passion. In eighth grade, he rarely saw the field.

“I was small. Everybody else was growing ahead of me. I hit that growth spurt way later than everybody else did. I think that was the biggest problem,” McAllister says.

As he started to grow — not much, but enough — McAllister’s playing time increased. Hersom and the Lawrence coaches noticed the hard work. As the Bulldogs went on their four game win streak to end the regular season and clinch a playoff spot, McAllister saw his playing time increase. Another growth spurt saw him jump from 5-6 to 5-9 and added 15 pounds to his frame between his junior season and the start of this season.

“He came on quite strong last year through a few JV games, and stepping it up and getting some good work done in practice. He was making a good name for himself as a guy who was going to give us some quality varsity playing time,” Hersom says. “Over the summer, he was around a lot, working on everything we try to do. We kind of knew he was going to have a great start to his season. Fortunately, he’s stayed healthy. On both sides of the ball, he’s really performing well… He does make it look easy sometimes, but he’s worked for it.”

In Messalonskee, the Bulldogs face one of the top rushing teams in the conference. The Eagles have thrown the ball less than two dozen times all season, so it’s unlikely McAllister adds to his interception total this weekend.

“I probably won’t even see the ball in the air, but that’s all right. We’re going to have to stop the run,” McAllister says.

One more game in the regular season, and then the playoffs. However far the Bulldogs advance, McAllister will be in the middle of it.

“He’s got great character,” Hersom says. “Amongst his peers, they all listen to him. He is a very good leader.”

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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