Lawrence fullback Alex Higgins (45) gets wrapped up by Skowhegan’s Aidan Louder during an October 12 game in Fairfield. Staff file photo by Michael G. Seamans

Trafton Gilbert is a young man playing football 30 years after his time. A Waterville Senior High School junior, Gilbert is a fullback for the Purple Panthers football team. Gilbert plays a position that many teams no longer have a use for, and he loves it.

“I love that it’s hard-nosed football. It’s really classic. It’s classic football, ’80s, ’90s football,” Gilbert said.

With more teams running a spread offense that calls for one, if any, running back in the backfield, the fullback doesn’t exist on many rosters. Here in central Maine, there are still plenty of teams using I or wing-T formations as their base offense, and for them, the fullback isn’t a dinosaur position. For them, it’s integral.

“I think teams that play with a fullback in the backfield, it says something about their philosophy of play,” Waterville coach Matt Gilley said. “I see a fullback on the field, I see a team that wants to be physical and sort of invites that challenge… A big reason we still keep it, you look at teams like Winslow, like MCI, that’s a big focus of what they do and they’re extrema successful. Once you see that one position, it sort of suggest the overall philosophy.”

“We’ve had fullbacks in our offense for a number of years now. We’ve adopted that position as pretty important,” Lawrence head coach John Hersom said.

This season, Lawrence turned to senior Alex Higgins to play fullback. As a junior, Higgins started at tackle for the Bulldogs. He played fullback in youth leagues and junior high, though, and with a hole at the position, Hersom and his coaching staff moved Higgins from the line back to the backfield.

“I was a little nervous. Being my senior year, it was pretty exciting,” Higgins said.

In recent games, Higgins has shown an aptitude for the position. He ran for 141 yards and three touchdowns in a week seven 44-26 win over Skowhegan. In last week’s regular season finale, a 34-14 win over Messalonskee, Higgins ran for 110 yards and had two receptions for 41 yards and a touchdown.

“Alex showed some signs over the summer he was in pretty good condition and fairly quick, so we wanted to take a look at him in preseason,” Hersom said. “He’s really starting to run the ball very effectively. He’s gotten used to reading blocks, having his eyes open and finding where those running lanes are. It’s been a big boost to our offense.”

When looking for a fullback, coaches need a player who can run and block, somebody who will not shy away from the contact that comes with almost every play.

“A lot times, it’s your most athletic guard. It is a dying breed, and it’s sort of a hybrid. There’s not a lot of glory. There’s a ton of blocking. It’s essentially a guard in the backfield,” Gilley said.

Gilley’s theory on athletic guards is in use at Maine Central Institute, where Seth Bussell still wears his lineman number 56, so he can alternate between guard and fullback for the Huskies. With 468 yards rushing and eight touchdowns, Bussell averages more than five yards per carry and has been a key in MCI’s ability to grind out long scoring drives.

“You want an overall, good, well-rounded football player,” Winslow head coach Mike Siviski said.

Waterville’s Trafton Gilbert, right, recovers a fumbled snap by Old Town’s Hunter Brasslett during a recent game in Waterville. Staff file photo by Michael G. Seamans

For decades, the fullback has been a pivotal position in Winslow’s offense. Siviski seems to always have a big, strong, physical player who can run and catch the ball, and open holes for other back. This season, he has two. Alex Demers (269 yards, seven touchdowns) and Rob Clark (331 yards, five TDs) each have played well for the Black Raiders. Siviski knows he has a good fullback when the player is able to sell a fake so well, he draws an inadvertent whistle, fooling even officials into thinking he has the ball.

“We get inadvertent whistles if the fullback is doing their job,” Siviski said.

Gilbert is one of four Waterville runners to gain more than 500 yards in the regular season, running for 527 yards and seven touchdowns. For most of his football career, Gilbert has followed in the footsteps of his father, Chris Gilbert, a former Winslow fullback.

“In junior high, I actually played a little quarterback, and that was rough. I told the coach, ‘Eh, this isn’t for me,'” Gilbert said.

Gilley describes Gilbert as a classic fullback.

“He runs downhill almost to a fault. Vision-wise, there are times you wish he’d sort of dip and bounce and cut it and he never ever will. If anything, he’ll turn more inside to square somebody up,” Gilley said. “You’ve got to love the mentality, but as a coach you look at film and say ‘Oh, that could’ve been a bigger play.’ But we’ll take what he brings.”

Like Gilbert, Higgins enjoys the physical aspects of the position, whether he’s running the ball or blocking.

“You lower your shoulder and you’re running people over getting as many yards as you can,” Higgins said. “Knock one over. Keep going, and knock another over.”

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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