DOVER-FOXCROFT – Paul Withee was talking with a visitor after a recent morning practice when a player walked by, heading home for some rest before an afternoon session.
“Now [the player] had to rotate at linebacker last year and only played half the downs on defense,” said the Foxcroft football team head coach. “We had Lincoln Robinson on the other side and we’re not going to take him out. I just think with our senior kids, we have enough experience.”
It’s a good problem that the Ponies have this year. Even though Foxcroft graduated some of the most talented football players in the state, there are 21 seniors – some of whom are in their fourth year of Withee’s system and have been waiting for their chance to play full time – on the roster this fall.
“This is the group that has finally come through,” Withee said. “They’re not very big in size, but they’re real tough kids and they’ve played football for seven years.”
At least one senior has been in the system for even longer.
Paul Withee can remember his son Josh throwing footballs on the sidelines as a young child. Now 17, Josh Withee will start at quarterback for the third year. He threw for more than 600 yards last year.
“He gives me a little more freedom,” Josh Withee said of his father. “He lets me call some of my own plays out there.”
Josh Withee said the offense will pass even more than last year, sometimes going with three-receiver sets and letting backs catch some passes.
That has 5-foot-11 wide receiver Matt Earnest excited.
“I got more than a few passes last year, and want a few more this year,” said Earnest.
Other top receivers include the 6-foot-8 Brandon Hall, who is also a track standout, and 6-0 senior Greg Perry. Both had more than 100 receiving yards last year as did Earnest.
Bobby Gilbert, one of the only junior starters, blossomed in his first season of football. Gilbert transferred from Greenville High last summer and scored a touchdown in the Class C state game.
This season the Ponies will rely on him even more in the backfield. On defense, Gilbert has moved to linebacker and his teammates say he’s in excellent condition and has improved in all areas.
“He’s catching on real quick,” said lineman Mike Larrabee. “He fits right in.”
The Foxcroft defense will get a bit of a makeover this season. Where last year the Ponies relied on size and strength up front, this year the team will move to a 4-4 defense with emphasis on speedy linebackers and defensive backs, such as Gilbert.
“They definitely make up for their [lack of] size,” linebacker Max Kennedy said.
Chris Lewis, an LTC second-team center last year, is the only returning starting lineman.
The Ponies’ schedule looks a bit different this year. Foxcroft has dropped the Class B teams from its schedule and picked up Class C Rockland and Maranacook of Readfield.
Rockland has struggled with numbers recently and Maranacook is a fairly new program.
2002 results: 11-1, lost in Class C state game
Head coach: Paul Withee, 14th year
Key players: Max Kennedy, WR-OLB, Sr.; Matt Earnest, WR-DB, Sr.; Josh Withee, QB-S, Sr.; Lincoln Robinson, FB-LB, Sr.; Brandon Hall, WR-DE, Sr.; Mike Larrabee, OT-DT, Sr.; Bobby Gilbert, HB-LB, Jr.; Chris Lewis, OG-DT, Sr.; Noah Kennedy, CB-LB, Sr.; Cody Libby, HB-DB, Sr.; Greg Perry, WR-DB, Sr.
Outlook: Aside from coming close to a Class C state title last year, the Ponies have a lot to play for this fall. The boys are dedicating their season to Jiman Duncan, an assistant coach who died of prostate cancer over the summer. And don’t tell coach Withee, but the Ponies would love to help him get his 100th win. He is only nine away.