WINTHROP — Evan Burnell and Jevin Smith went into the preseason with a common goal. And a message they were hoping to get across to their Winthrop/Monmouth/Hall-Dale coaches.

“Jevin and I would hit the field, we’d hit the sled, we’d go throw some passes,” Burnell said. “We were trying to prove something, trying to prove that we both belonged out there at the same time.”

Smith and Burnell have gotten their chance in the second half of the season, and as they’ve flourished in their new roles, so have the Ramblers. After platooning at tight end, Burnell and Smith have emerged as full-time players at tight end and running back, respectively, providing an extra dimension to the offense that has helped carry Winthrop/Monmouth/Hall-Dale to a 4-4 record and the fifth seed in the Class D South playoffs.

“(We want) to get our best 11 on the field as much as possible, and they’re part of that best 11,” coach Dave St. Hilaire said. “We felt that we needed to give Jevin some touches, so we got a little creative with his role in the offense, kept Evan at tight end and we’ve actually flourished since we made that change.”

They’ve both adapted to their larger offensive workloads nicely. Burnell is a reliable receiving and blocking tight end for the Ramblers and a safety blanket for quarterback Keegan Choate, with 13 catches for 176 yards and a touchdown. Smith has given the team a spark by lifting a struggling running game, running 23 times for 154 yards — a 6.7 yard-per-carry average — and four touchdowns over the past three games.

“Jevin’s energy at running back has definitely helped improve the team by a lot,” Burnell said. “I’d say it doesn’t really matter where Jevin is, I think he’s really effective. But I like that he goes into everything 100 miles an hour, no matter where he’s at.”

“It’s been great,” Smith said of the new responsibilities. “It’s just clicked for both of us.”

It took a while for both to get on the field regularly on offense — largely because of how well they played on the other side of the ball. Burnell and Smith are also two impact players at defensive end, with different styles of attacking the offense.

“Evan’s a smart player. He’s pretty quick, he’s a good pass rusher,” St. Hilaire said. “Jevin’s just an animal. There were a couple of plays we pulled up on film where he took on three guys coming, a fullback and two pulling linemen, and he wrong-armed them, stopped them in their tracks and chased the guy out of bounds. … They both have their strengths. Evan’s is more speed, and Jevin’s is more power.”

St. Hilaire didn’t want to wear them down with two-way play, however, so the breaks came on offense. Burnell and Smith shared snaps at tight end, and the two got a rapport going as they worked within the platoon system.

“If we were feeling it, we’d say ‘Hey, take the next drive,’ ” Smith said. “Maybe go two or three drives, and the other would go two or three drives. We listened to each other. … He’s not afraid to tell me ‘I’ve got the next one,’ and I’m not afraid to tell him ‘I’ve got the next one.’ ”

As the season got going, however, St. Hilaire realized he had two problems. His team couldn’t run the ball. And Smith, who went two straight games without getting his hands on the ball, was being left out.

“Two weeks with no catches, no touches?” St. Hilaire said. “We said ‘We need to change that.’ ”

The answer came at running back, and the returns were immediate. Smith ran eight times for 55 yards and a touchdown in an Oct. 6 game against Lisbon. He added 41 yards on eight carries against Madison. And then seven carries for 58 yards and three touchdowns against Mountain Valley.

“Wherever they want to put me, I play. I know the whole playbook, so it’s wherever they need me,” he said. “I want the ball, and whenever I get it, I just run as hard as I can.”

The Ramblers have rushed for 10 touchdowns. Smith has four of them.

“We struggled early in the season with short yardage. Third-and-1, we wouldn’t get it. Fourth-and-1, we wouldn’t get it. … Ever since he started getting some of those carries, it’s been night and day for us,” St. Hilaire said. “Sometimes there’s no hole and he just squirts through, but then he carries two or three guys for 5 or 6 yards. He’s just powerful downhill.”

And the tight end spot has become all Burnell’s, and the senior has been a go-to on second and third down for Choate with a 13.5 yard-per-catch average.

“I don’t think I can remember ever seeing him dropping a ball in a game,” St. Hilaire said. “And he gets open. He finds open seams, catches the ball and he’s great with yards after the catch. He’ll make a catch and oftentimes, if we need a couple more yards to get that first down, he gets it.”

He’s just as valuable, St. Hilaire said, when he doesn’t get the ball.

“You never call him out for missing a block,” he said. “He’s got great technique and he battles right to the whistle.”

Lately, that’s meant blocking for his former fellow tight end. And he can expect that to continue for as long as the Ramblers’ playoff road goes.

“I love football, I love playing,” Burnell said. “It’s a great feeling to be able to be out there with Jevin at the same time on both sides of the ball, and really, it’s whatever I can do to help improve my team.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

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