WINTHROP — There are a few teams that have become pillars of Class D football since the classification was reintroduced in 2013. Near the top of that list is Winthrop/Monmouth/Hall-Dale.

One of the last four teams standing for three years running now, the Ramblers haven’t had a losing season since 2014. To keep those stretches going this year, they’ll turn to a roster that’s young but plenty skilled to hold its own in the expanded Class D.

Only one offensive starter and two defensive starters return from a Winthrop/Monmouth/Hall-Dale team that went 6-4 last year. Yet head coach Dave St. Hilaire sees potential in this squad, which is 44 players strong with 17 freshmen who won their league championship as middle-schoolers last year joining the fold.

“We’ve got guys that are ready to jump right in and compete for us,” St. Hilaire said. “I like the youth of our team, and I especially like the work we put in in the offseason to get better. We put a lot of work in the weight room, so our line is a lot stronger, and I think they’re ready to step in.”

The most notable losses for Winthrop/Monmouth/Hall-Dale are at the skill positions. The Ramblers have a new quarterback to break in after losing Owen Harding, and they also lose their primary running backs in Dom Trott and Robby Feeney, both of whom were also reliable in the passing game.

Braden Branagan, who’s shown promise in limited action over the past two years, will be taking over for Harding under center. At running back, the Ramblers’ top option will be Carter Rivers, who averaged an impressive 7.7 yards per carry last year as he ran the ball 61 times for 467 yards.


“(Carter) ran for 188 yards against Oak Hill last year, and he’s also a good receiver who can run a lot of great routes for us,” St. Hilaire said. “He’s very fast, and he’s much-improved from last year. He, Cody Cobb and Brody Adams are going to be our top-three running backs, and they’ll all see action in the slot.”

The biggest challenge, St. Hilaire said, has been correcting the countless little things that come as young players step in to play varsity football for the first time. Yet that’s something that will come with time, and with 39 underclassmen on this year’s team, the Ramblers should remain a force in the coming years as those players become seasoned.

“Just seeing watching film from (our scrimmage against Messalonskee), we had guys who gave up on a block when they thought they were beaten instead of trying to get stalemate,” St. Hilaire said. “It’s things like that, stuff that you can get away with in middle school or junior varsity but not on Friday nights.”

Winthrop/Monmouth/Hall-Dale is practicing at Kents Hill School in Readfield at the moment as its Maxwell Field home gets set for a switch from natural grass to artificial turf. The turf will be installed Wednesday with new lights set to follow Sept. 10.


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As the Ramblers practice in Kents Hill, they do so near another program that’s won consistently over the past few years. Since the dawn of eight-man football, Maranacook has been a premier team that opponents must always be prepared to beat come the postseason.

Although the man at the helm of that success, Jordan DeMillo, is no longer on the sidelines at Ricky Gibson Field of Dreams, expectations haven’t changed for the Black Bears in 2023. Maranacook has a talented roster that’s also remarkably deep at 42 players as Skip Bessey takes over as head coach.

“I’m very blessed to step right in and have a group of kids like this,” said Bessey, a former player at Jay High School and assistant coach at Messalonskee and Spruce Mountain. “These guys are good players and good kids. They know how to win, and they’re hungry to do it.”

A Winthrop/Monmouth defensive back runs back an interception during a football scrimmage Saturday in Oakland. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Maranacook boasts a solid running back trio in Owen Dunn, Kody Goucher and Gabe Jacobs. Dunn was one of the top players in the eight-man ranks a year ago as he was chosen to the All-Campbell Conference first team at running back as well as on the defensive line.

The offense, though, will look slightly different this year as Maranacook installs a new system. Whereas the Black Bears have taken on a more smashmouth style in the past, Bessey has implemented an up-tempo, no-huddle offense that features lots of motion and audibles.


“It’s fun to watch, and it’s fun to play,” Bessey said of his offense. “Obviously, it’s a change for this Maranacook team with how they’re used to playing. That faster pace is definitely an adjustment to them, but the kids have embraced it, and I think they’re catching on pretty quick.”

Defensively, Bessey liked the physicality his team showed in Friday’s controlled scrimmage against Spruce Mountain. It all sets up for a season of big goals for a Maranacook team that’s become used to high expectations during their recent stretch of success.

“The goals I’ve set for them are very high, but I think they’re achievable goals,” Bessey said. “I’m a (Jobs for Maine Graduates) specialist, so I talk about goals a lot, and make no mistake: One of our long-term goals is a Gold Ball, and I think it’s an achievable one.”


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Losing a player of Parker Higgins’ caliber is never ideal as a team turns the page from one season to the next. It can be manageable, though, if a team has enough returning pieces elsewhere, and that’s exactly where the Lawrence Bulldogs find themselves.

Yes, Lawrence dearly misses Higgins, an All-Pine Tree Conference first-teamer at running back and linebacker and Fitzpatrick Trophy semifinalist. It would be foolish though, to expect a John Hersom team to fall out of contention — especially one with the linemen and skill-position building blocks this one features.

Hersom, now in his 18th season as Lawrence’s head coach, is pleased with how his offensive line is shaping up. There’s some depth to be built behind the starters, but a solid trio of starters (Cam Dostie, Izcek Spaulding and Cam Stewart) return for a Bulldogs team that’s also seen Davin Bolduc and Zeb Hannah slot in nicely.

A host of WInthrop/Monmouth defenders chase a Messalonskee running back during a football scrimmage Saturday in Oakland. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

“We look like we have a solid front line, both on offense and defense,” said Hersom, whose team also welcomes back Maddox Santone on the defensive line after he was sidelined with an injury last year. “If we can get into that first game against Bangor with a healthy group, I think we’ll have that depth.”

Santone, Colton Carter and Gaige Martin will be among the players splitting carries in the backfield for Lawrence this fall. In the receiving game, the Bulldogs bring back a top receiver in Gavin Lunt, who will be joined by the speedy Dane Zawistowski and a new tight end in Lucas Proctor.

At quarterback, Michael Hamlin emerged as a passing threat as a sophomore a year ago. His development throughout the year added a dimension to the Lawrence offense as opposing teams were forced to respect the pass, opening things up for the Bulldogs’ backs in the run game.

“Michael is really stepping up his game, not just by his skill level but by his leadership,” Hersom said. “He’s become that guy for us that can really get us in the right direction when we need it. As a coach, you can’t control everything from the sideline, so it’s great to have a leader like that.”

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