NEWPORT — When Jake Rogers accepted the job as head football coach at Nokomis Regional High School in April, he knew he had a rebuilding job. The Warriors had just played back-to-back 0-8 seasons in the Pine Tree Conference Class B. Now reclassified into Class C North, Nokomis needed some senior leaders to step up and help Rogers change the culture. If they didn’t, it wouldn’t matter what league the Warriors called home. The problem was, Rogers inherited a young team, with few seniors.

That’s when Colby Pinette and Logan Rowell stepped up. The two seniors have been keys to the Warriors newfound success this season. Nokomis completed the regular season with a 6-2 record, earning the team its first winning record and first playoff appearance in the program’s 11-year history. The No. 3 seed in Class C North, Nokomis hosts No. 6 Maine Central Institute Saturday afternoon.

“They’re leaders on and off the field, both of them are,” Rogers said of Pinette and Rowell. “These are two guys I like the younger guys to use as their role models. They’ve been through a lot.”

As a running back, Pinette is second on the team in rushing yards, with 224 yards and three touchdowns on 51 carries. Pinette also has three receptions for 26 yards and two touchdowns. As a linebacker, Pinette has 13 tackles and a sack. A cornerback, Rowell is fourth on the Warriors defense with 27 tackles, and has one interception.

“The biggest thing is a change in mentality and how we’re approaching the games and how we prepare, day to day. Focusing on the little things has made a big difference, I think,” Pinette said. “Practice was a lot more structured. Coach (Rogers) has us on a schedule and he keeps us to that. It’s go, go, go. In practice we’re pushing each other and focusing on the fundamentals.”

In the season opening game, a 34-8 win over Hampden Academy, Pinette ran for 88 yards and two touchdowns, and Rowell had a tackle. It was the first win for the Warriors since the 2014 season, when the pair were freshmen. That win, coming after a successful preseason game against Mt. Blue, set the tone for the season. Winning built confidence, which led to more wins, which led to the Warriors prepping for their first playoff game this week, instead of turning in their equipment.

“Mentally, you have to be there to get the success. When you get one victory, it helps build on to the next week. You just get the 0-8, nothing really pays off for the hard work,” Rowell said. “It was mentally tough, but we came back every year because we enjoy the game. Now our hard work from past years is paying off.”

Added Pinette: “Football, you’re in the weight room year round, and you’re preparing for each season, and when you don’t really get anything out of it, it’s kind of depressing. You try to keep a positive attitude about it. It goes to show, you keep grinding hard and keep a positive attitude, eventually it will come to you.”

Rogers said he knew early on that Pinette would be a team leader. He described Pinette as the team’s pace setter, an intensity engine for the Warriors.

“Colby’s our captain. We usually say practice goes by him. If he’s going full bore, everyone seems to follow him, because they’re going to get hit if they don’t,” Rogers said. “Colby’s a big ball of fury. He just goes one speed. Without him, we’d be a different team.”

Keeping his teammates’ spirits up and focused on the task at hand is how Pinette sees his role in Nokomis’ leadership.

“That perseverance, how you approach things, not letting things get to you if you make a mistake. Going forward and not letting those mistakes bring you down has brought this team to a new level,” Pinette said.

Rogers needed some time to get to know Rowell, not because Rowell kept to himself, but because he had commitments which forced him to miss some summer workouts. This summer, Rowell played on a lacrosse team and completed his Eagle Scout service project, building a concrete lacrosse rebound wall at MCI, where he and the members of the co-op Nokomis-MCI lacrosse team can use it in practice. When he rejoined the football team, Rowell could sense a positive change.

“When I came in to the group, I was a bit behind because what I did over the summer. I hopped back into things and could feel the energy was a lot higher. It just felt a lot better than it had,” Rowell said.

Added Rogers: “Once I heard what (Rowell) does outside of football, I knew he was a person I’d want kids looking up to… Logan’s been penciled in at corner right out of the gate. He picks everything up. He tries to get better every week.”

With the Warriors in the playoffs for the first time, and hosting a game Saturday, there’s an excitement around Nokomis football in the school, Pinette said.

“Everyone’s pumped. Everybody’s asking me, ‘Hey, are you going to beat MCI?’ This is the first playoff game we’ve had here at Nokomis. Everyone’s excited,” he said.

“Now that they’ve seen what hard work we’ve put in and what we’re able to do, they’ve started to rise up with us,” Rowell said.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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