Skowhegan High School’s Mason Fitzgerald evades Cony High School’s Caleb McFarland (79) in Skowhegan. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

SKOWHEGAN — In this day of smaller high school football rosters, many players are thrust into varsity playing time, whether ready or not. Rare is the player who simply follows the route taken by generations before him and waits his turn.

Skowhegan Area High School junior Mason Fitzgerald waited for his turn to come in Skowhegan’s backfield. Now Fitzgerald is making the most of his playing time.

Through six games, Fitzgerald has 98 carries for 479 yards and four rushing touchdowns. He’s also caught 33 passes for 394 yards and five more touchdowns. Fitzgerald averages 145.5 yards per game from scrimmage, and Skowhegan gains an average of 6.7 yards every time Fitzgerald touches the ball. His development has coincided with Skowhegan’s overall offensive improvement. After starting the season with three straight losses, Skowhegan has won two of its last three games to climb back into the Pine Tree Conference Class B playoff picture. Skowhegan (2-4) plays at Hampden (1-5) Friday night.

After scoring just seven points in each of its first two games, losses to still undefeated Brunswick and Cony, Skowhegan averaged just over 30 points per game in its last four. Fitzgerald has become a vital piece of Skowhegan’s improving attack, and it’s a role he wasn’t ready for as a sophomore last season, Skowhegan head coach Ryan Libby said.

“It’s hard to say that this year when we have so many underclassmen playing. For a sophomore to step into that role, it’s a big step,” Libby said. “For Mason, the turnaround was a year of extreme dedication in the weight room. It really kind of transformed him, in terms of body type. His speed got a lot better. This season it shows.”

Fitzgerald estimated he was in the weight room six days per week throughout much of the offseason.

“A month or two in. I started to notice I was putting on some serious size compared to what I was last year,” Fitzgerald said.

Now 5-foot-11 and 175-pounds, Fitzgerald started to show glimpses of his promise during the team’s summer workouts.

“As soon as we hit the field in June, you could see he was going to be a pretty special kid,” Libby said.

Fitzgerald’s breakout game came in a 37-0 win at Gardiner in Week 4. He gained 225 all-purpose yards with a pair of touchdowns, one rushing and one through the air. Fitzgerald’s first touchdown came less than two minutes into the game. He took a handoff from quarterback Cam Green and went off tackle to the right side of the line. When he hit the corner, Fitzgerald was gone, outrunning everybody to the end zone.

In last week’s 38-8 win over Messalonskee, Fitzgerald accounted for 222 yards from scrimmage (140 rushing, 82 receiving) and four touchdowns.

“We clearly get Mason the ball as much as we can, but the evolution has been the offense as a whole. If we execute, we can move the ball on the run because we’re making our blocking assignments. If we pick up heavy blitzes, the screen game opens up for him. As long as the other 10 are executing, it falls into place for him,” Libby said.

Added Fitzgerald: “I try to do everything I possibly can for the team. Swinging out of the backfield opens things up quite a bit. When you can run the ball and receive the ball, the defense has to focus on you, leaving other people open.”

Most of Fitzgerald’s playing time last season came in junior varsity games. In practice, he worked closely alongside starting running back Hunter Washburn, picking his brain during drills. During games, Fitzgerald studied how Washburn ran, hoping to pick something up for when his chance came.

“(Washburn) was patient in the backfield. He saw the hole open up,” Fitzgerald said.

With two games left in the regular season, Fitzgerald hopes he and his team continue their improvement.

“We still have assignments here and there we might miss, but everyone’s working hard for it,” Fitzgerald said.

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