READFIELD — For most high school football players, it’s a journey from pee-wees to the varsity level. For Dakota DeMott, that path has been more like an odyssey.

There’s the wandering from one location to another, from first putting on pads and a helmet in North Dakota to coming of age with the game in Idaho, to resuming a career in Maine. There’s the culture change, one that entailed going from a school of over 1,000 students steeped in football tradition to one of just under 400 in Maranacook Community High School, where they’re doing what they can to build one. There’s the sudden boost in on-field responsibility, from playing one side of the ball to being counted on by a team to perform on nearly every snap of every game.

It’s been challenging, and it’s taken time. But DeMott, Maranacook’s do-it-all player, is acclimating to being just that.

“At first it was tough, just because I wasn’t used to playing an entire game without really coming out,” said DeMott, a junior who plays as a hard-hitting outside linebacker and hard-charging fullback for the 4-2 Black Bears. “But it’s definitely been good because I definitely get more opportunities to play. I play more, start more. That’s been good.”

Maranacook coach Walter Polky said DeMott, while performing as one of the team’s busiest players, has also developed into one of its best.

“I put a lot on his plate, and he does a very, very good job with it,” he said. “And he’s still learning. He’s getting better. He hasn’t even scratched the surface of his ability yet.”

Even as one of the newest Black Bears, he’s developed into a team leader, lending advice to teammates who are eager to learn.

“When he walks into the meeting room, you know it’s different,” Polky said. “He’s respected by the kids on our team. When he speaks, kids listen.”

It hasn’t been easy. None of it has. It never is when you’re settled in somewhere and starting high school, then being uprooted and moved over 2,000 miles away, as DeMott was when his family moved from just outside Boise in Kuna, Idaho to Maine last November.

The move also halted DeMott’s football career. He had been a freshman defensive end the season before at Kuna High School, a school of 1,300 that competes in Idaho’s 5A class, the largest in the state. Football is different at Kuna compared to most Maine schools. There were three full teams, including the freshman squad that DeMott played on, with different coaching staffs for each. Rosters were large enough that players played one way, and could take a rest when they needed one.

“In Idaho, there are a lot bigger teams, and the players on average are a lot bigger,” DeMott said. “So you were constantly going up against kids that were a lot stronger, and they had fresh players to come in when other players were getting tired.”

The move came in November, preventing DeMott from playing his sophomore year. He was eager to play in his junior season, however — even though the team with which he’d return hardly resembled the program at Kuna. Maranacook didn’t win a game last year, and dropped down to the developmental Class E for this season. Low turnout has dogged the program for years. Inexperienced players dot the roster.

DeMott saw all of it — and the upside.

“I definitely looked at it as a challenge, especially because I’m not used to being on a team that has a losing record,” he said. “So I definitely looked at it as a challenge to help make it a winning record.”

Polky, in his first season at the helm, was thrilled to get the 6-foot, 205-pound junior on his team.

“He’s a very powerful kid,” he said. “He’s fast, he has a good burst. … He’s a kid that, as a freshman, you can watch at practice. ‘OK, this is how it’s supposed to be done.’ “

There were few adjustments to make on the defensive side. Polky’s scheme asks for outside linebackers to be run-stuffers with an ability to cover, and he called DeMott a “prototype” for that position.

“He’s very fluid,” Polky said. “He is a very good open-field tackler, and he’s very good at defeating blocks. His instincts of taking guys on, he’s very, very good at that.”

This time, however, the defensive side wouldn’t be the only side. At a school like Maranacook, with a roster of 21 players, players play both ways — or, in DeMott’s case, every way. On offense, defense and special teams, he’s on the field. Kickoff returns and punt returns, he’s out there. He’s on the bench during extra points, and that’s about it.

“In a 130-play game, he may only get four plays off, maybe,” Polky said. “He’s played 100-plus plays in every game this year.”

With all those plays, there’s been a steep learning curve. Defense wasn’t an issue but DeMott had to learn to play as a fullback and tight end on offense, which Polky said was a mental hurdle as much as a physical one.

“Our offensive playbook is about 120 pages thick, and it could easily be over 200,” he said. “He needs to know when to double team the (defensive) end. He needs to know when to single block, he needs to know what the read is. When he runs the football, he needs to know what gaps to run. … There’s a lot.”

As the season progressed, however, the workload became less and less of a burden. DeMott’s offensive acumen now rivals his defensive savvy. He’s settled in as one of the team’s most versatile offensive players, able to carry out any of the wide range of tasks he could be assigned on any series.

” He can block the edge as a tight end. We need third-and-2, we can drive him up the middle and get yards. We put him in the flat, he can catch the ball in the flat,” Polky said. “He’s just going to lower his shoulder and he’s going to get what he can get. He sort of wears kids down.”

And he doesn’t get worn down. Not anymore.

“By the end of the (first) game I was just exhausted because I had been playing the entire game,” he said. “But now I can play an entire game and not be nearly as tired as I was.

“Now that I’m not as tired I do look forward to it, because it’s more football for me to play.”

And it allows him to leave as big an impact as possible on the program — one that he said is starting to build that winning culture he had to leave behind.

“I feel like the team’s been doing pretty well,” he said. “It’s been a positive experience.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

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