Boston High School: Nick Leblond

New England Roundup: Maine

December, 3, 2012
12/03/12
6:20
PM ET
Nick Janes remembers how it used to feel to be a Marshwood football player, and he remembers when that changed.

MaineAt one time, the Hawks had one of the best football programs in the state. But Marshwood hadn’t been to a state title game since 1989, and finished 2-6 and out of the playoffs in 2011.

“You felt secluded,” said Janes, a senior running back and defensive back on this year’s Marshwood team. “Like, everybody knew you were, but no one really cared.”

Marshwood hired coach Alex Rotsko before this season. In addition to coaching at American International College and Ithaca, Rotsko had won 11 Super Bowls in 19 years as coach of Longmeadow High School in Massachusetts.

“The first practice, you looked at him, he just looked confident,” Janes said. “You didn’t want to lose for him.”

For Janes, the moment he realized things were different came in a preseason scrimmage against Portsmouth (N.H.) High. Marshwood struggled to move the ball, and Rotsko told his players what was wrong and how to fix it.

“The next play, we ran for like a 20-yard gain,” Janes said. “I’ve never seen anything like that before.”

Marshwood eventually made it to the Class B state championship game, losing 44-42 to Mt. Blue. It was clear Marshwood is back.

“You could feel the whole community coming around you,” Janes said.

Rotsko, who was also athletic director at Longmeadow, was friends with former Marshwood coach John Caverly, so he was aware when the Marshwood job became open.

“My wife and I own a home at York Beach, and we were coming up here anyway after I retired,” Rotsko said.

As usual, Rotsko installed the Wing-T offense, a run-based system built of multiple weapons.

“We ran it at Longmeadow,” he said. “The 19 years that I was there, we ran it 18 years and had 18 winning seasons. You can guess what happened that one year.”

“We used to run the spread offense,” said Dan Lizotte, a senior fullback/linebacker. “I thought we had the size to run a tighter offense. We just powered it up the middle. I liked it.”

With his favorite offense in place, Rotsko said there were two clear differences for him between Maine and Massachusetts. In Massachusetts, you have to play three games in 12 days at playoff time, including the annual Thanksgiving rivalry, while Maine simply has a game each week. The other notable difference is the size of the rosters.

“The school that I came from was not a real big school,” Rotsko said. “We probably had 500 boys, and 100 played football. I was used to dealing with 105, 110 kids. I came here, we had about 60 kids at the first practice. Out of those 60, 40 or so were freshmen and sophomores.”

Marshwood’s first two games in the regular season were against York and Mountain Valley. York was returning 18 starters from a playoff team, and Mountain Valley is a perennial powerhouse. Rotsko said he was told those were the two teams that Marshwood had no chance to beat, but the Hawks won both games, defeating York 28-12 and Mountain Valley, 19-12.

“It was unbelievable,” Janes said. “Everybody was really excited. It felt surreal.”

Less than a month after its second win, Marshwood lost a former teammate. Troy Pappas, the quarterback in 2011 and a freshman at Bates College, died Oct. 5, six days after falling down a stairwell.

“I’ve thought of him every day,” Janes said. “It’s tough to go through something like that, so he’s always on my mind. Playing with him for three years, you get used to him being there.”

The Hawks took the field just a couple hours after Pappas’ death, and defeated Cape Elizabeth, 20-0, to run their record to 5-1. They did not lose again in the regular season, and after beating Cape Elizabeth again in the quarterfinals, knocked off Wells, 15-13, and York, 21-20 to win the Western B title.

“I feel like Troy was there watching over us, making sure we won by the skin of our teeth,” Lizotte said. “Everyone felt that was it.”

A lot of key players are back for Marshwood next season, like quarterback Cameron Roll, running back Brett Gerry, and linemen Tyler Gagnon and Beau Blanchette.

“I thought it was a great season,” Rotsko said. “It couldn’t have gone any better. I think everybody’s already excited for next year.”

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