WINTHROP — Poland’s Zach Cote had just made another catch near the Winthrop/Monmouth/Hall-Dale sideline when Ramblers coach Dave St. Hilaire heard a voice laced with urgency, directed at him through the post-play din of grunts and whistles.

It was from Dylan Lajoie. And his cornerback had a request.

“Dylan came over and said ‘Coach, put me on him. Put me on him,'” St. Hilaire said.

He did. It worked. The Ramblers rallied in the fourth quarter for a 33-29 win, with Lajoie keeping Cote, Poland’s best deep threat, locked down every step of the way.

“I look up and he’s right in the guy’s face. He’s like a yard off, just jamming him,” St. Hilaire said. “And he knows that he’s a deep threat. But he’s got the confidence to play up there and say ‘Beat me. I’m right here, beat me deep. I dare you.’

“Dylan couldn’t do that last year.”

It’s been a different story this season. Lajoie has turned into one of the best two-way players on the Ramblers’ roster, thriving in his senior season both as a playmaking receiver and a shutdown cornerback — as well as the team’s emotional leader.

“He’s grown into his body, he’s not awkward with any of his movements, he’s physical, he’s fast,” St. Hilaire said. “He’s put it all together this year, and we have no worries about him, whether he’s running the ball, catching the ball, blocking, tackling, covering. He does it all.”

The Ramblers (2-2) need him to. And Lajoie embraces the challenge.

“I don’t see myself as an offensive or defensive player,” he said. “In Monmouth, we always had, like, 13 kids, so you always had to play both sides of the ball. … I like it that way, I like being on the field. … I hate not being on the field. I hate not playing.”

It’s what he’s used to, but there has still been an adjustment along the way. Lajoie has been a defensive back since picking the game up in kindergarten, but he was a quarterback on offense, and after playing special teams as a sophomore, made the move to receiver with promising quarterback Keegan Choate coming up.

It wasn’t easy, with Lajoie seeing that there was more to playing receiver than catching passes.

“It was mostly the footwork, running the routes correctly,” he said. “Like run five yards, do an out. Run three yards, do an in. Stuff like that. And just understanding that, as a wide receiver, you’re not always looking for the ball. You’ve got to create open space for others.”

Lajoie could apply his quarterback knowledge, however, allowing him to better conceptualize how he should attack a route. And in the offseasons leading to his junior and senior seasons, he worked on the physical side as well.

“I do a lot of footwork training, I work on my hands a little, (we’d) get the guys together and play some 7-on-7 by ourselves,” he said. “(Then I’d be) watching film and seeing if I should have run it three yards, if I should have run it 10.”

His quarterback said the progress was apparent going into this year.

Dylan Lajoie catches a pass during Winthrop/Monmouth/Hall-Dale football practice Wednesday at Maxwell Field in Winthrop. Staff photo by Joe Phelan

“He’s always a good route runner,” Choate said of Lajoie, who has 15 catches for 216 yards and three touchdowns. “He just puts in the work on the ladder, whatever it is. Just working on his footwork, and it really shows out there on gameday.”

Defense was less of a question, as Lajoie has fit the cornerback position since he first put on pads. But this season, St. Hilaire saw that Lajoie was playing with a new edge, and a new physicality.

“When he would make a tackle last year, it wasn’t a real physical tackle,” he said. “This year, he’s making physical tackles. Physical, drop the guy right there. … A couple of times he’s come up, there’s a swing pass, he comes up and just chops the kid down with a great tackle, just drops him right there.”

“If there’s a ball coming and I can either try for the pick or lay the guy out, I’m going to lay the guy out,” Lajoie said. “It’s in the back of their head the rest of the game, ‘Man, I don’t want to catch this, he’s going to be right there.’ I just try to wear my opponent down.”

Lajoie is only 5-10 and 165 pounds, but he said he forgets any restraints when he steps on the field.

“I flip the switch as soon as I’m in the game,” he said. “I’m locked in and focused. I flip a switch and it’s just game time from there.”

Which is why Lajoie stood near the Ramblers sideline on that Friday night, urging his coaches to give him the assignment of Poland’s top receiver.

“I guess it’s confidence, really,” Lajoie said. “I knew that I’d be able to stop him.”

A former teammate of Cote’s, Lajoie knew his style. And he was ready.

“I knew he liked going long and baiting me in,” said Lajoie, who held Cote to one catch. “I knew if I could get up, start pressing him, get in his face and throw off the timing for his route, I’d be able to stop him.”

When that switch is flipped, staying quiet can be a challenge.

“If I feel that I can help the team, I’m not going to sit back and hopefully he says something,” Lajoie said. “I’m going to go up, especially as a senior. You’ve got to be more of a leader and step up.”

His coach has no problem with it. In fact, he loves to see it.

“He plays with emotion, it’s a controlled emotion, and it’s all positive stuff,” St. Hilaire said. “It’s just great because one guy’s out there making a tackle and not necessarily celebrating, but showing that enthusiasm, and guys just feed off of it.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

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