Maine Central Institute running back Tucker Sharples takes off during a game against Hermon last week in Pittsfield. Photo by Jennifer Bechard

PITTSFIELD — A senior running back at Maine Central Institute, Tucker Sharples doesn’t look to any of the talented players who preceded him in the Huskies backfield for inspiration. Sharples doesn’t look at the new gold balls the Huskies added to the school trophy case the last two seasons.

When Sharples needs something to keep his legs churning, when he needs something to provide a boost, he just needs to think of his little brother, paralyzed from the waist down.

Kellan Tilton was born with neuroblastoma, a cancer attacking his spine.

“I think it was day three of his being born he had his first round of chemo,” Sharples said.

Kellan is now 6, Sharples said, and doing great.

“Despite all that, he’s still a great kid. He’s all healthy. He’s the most athletic kid I’ve seen in a wheelchair. I played wheelchair tennis with him a couple weeks back. He whupped my butt,” Sharples said.

So when Sharples fumbles, as he did a couple times in MCI’s 29-25 win over previously undefeated Hermon last Friday night, he knows it’s futile to dwell on the mistakes.

“It’s all perseverance. For example last week, I fumbled the ball a couple time. Everyone saw that. But I came back, and scored some touchdowns,” Sharples said. “I didn’t want to stop. Can’t stop. (Kellan) doesn’t stop. He gets knocked back from cancer, he doesn’t take that. He’s bright, bubbly, in everything he does. Nothing stops him.”

In the win over Hermon, Sharples ran for 127 yards on 20 carries, scoring a pair of touchdowns. His second touchdown, on a 2 yard third and goal run, gave the Huskies the lead for good with 2:56 left in the game. The carry near the goal was coach Tom Bertrand’s way of saying, forget the fumbles, we trust you.

Maine Central Institute running back Tucker Sharples gets taken down during a game against Hermon last week in Pittsfield. Photo by Jennifer Bechard

“He put the ball on the ground a couple of times, but you’ll notice down the stretch I was still feeding him because I have that much trust in him. Nobody was harder on Tucker than himself. I think he’ll get those cleaned up,” Bertrand said. “He’s earned his way to the top of the depth chart there and has shown why.”

Since beginning the current four-year run of regional championships, depth at running back has been a strong suit for the Huskies. Behind players like Adam Bertrand, Eli Bussell, Willie Moss, and Pedro Matos over the last two years, Sharples essentially had to work hard and wait his turn.

“One of the things we talked about in the offseason was, ability is not going to be the first factor in who plays this year. It’s going to be who’s got the right attitude, who’s committed in the offseason to the weight room,” Bertrand said. “Tucker plays lacrosse in the spring, and he’d get out of lacrosse, and he and another kid, Matt Singh, they’d get here and lift weights after practice. He’s earned his opportunity.”

“I was all right waiting my turn. The benefit is, I learned from a lot of great players, like Eli Bussell, Adam Bertrand, Willie Moss. I think it was good in the long run. I come out this year and I’m ready to go,” Sharples said. “I was in the weight room almost every day (in the offseason). A lot of hard work, and it’s exciting to see it pay off.”

Sharples said he wasn’t nervous when it was his chance to a ball carrier. He was more excited.

“It was finally there. I was finally on the field to show what I can do,” he said.

In four games, Sharples has 375 yards and five touchdowns on 53 carries. In the Big 11 Conference (Class C North), only Elijah Joyce, Mt. Desert Island’s workhorse back who has 105 carries, has more yards (705). With running back depth again a strength for MCI, Sharples isn’t asked to carry the load like Joyce. At 5-foot-9 and 190 pounds, Sharples, is a rugged, between the tackles runner.

“I love blocking for Sharples. He’s a good running back. He’ll hit the hole,” MCI guard Seth Bussell, who sometimes moonlights as a fullback for the Huskies, said.

Bertrand praised Sharples field vision and ability find the holes. Most importantly, Bertrand said he can count on Sharples to be there.

“He’s just a great kid on campus. I can count on him being there every Friday night. His grades are good and he stays out of trouble,” Bertrand said.

Sharples and Bussell provide the power running upon which MCI’s offense is built. Kempton Roy sees some carries, as does Andrew Whitaker, when the situation calls for somebody shiftier. So far this season, the Huskies have been at their best when they play smash mouth offense, and Sharples is in the middle of that. Sharples recalled a 70 yard touchdown drive in MCI’s 28-0 win at Mt. Desert Island Sept. 14. The offensive line, which includes left tackle Sam Tilton, Sharples’ brother, was in top form, he said.

“I got the ball every time, and there’s nothing like that to pump up an O-line, pump up a running back. The blocking is fantastic,” Sharples said.

To win a fifth straight regional title, and a third straight state championship, the Huskies need to use Friday’s win over Hermon as a springboard. The team fed off the excitement surrounding the game, which was broadcast live on Bangor’s WABI.

“We kept saying on the sidelines, it feels like a state game. It feels like a playoff game. The atmosphere was crazy, and that game is going to give us the momentum we need,” Sharples said.

Sharples is still deciding on what colleges he’ll apply to, but he knows what he wants to study, recreational therapy. Sharples has been what the people at Maine Adaptive Sports and Recreation do firsthand, in things like wheelchair tennis with Kellan.

“It’s definitely an inspiration. I see what those workers do to help improve people’s lives, and I want to help people like that,” Sharples said.

But first, Sharples wants to help the Huskies win more football games. He waited for his chance long enough.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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