BANGOR, Maine — Bill Wetherbee has had multiple roles for the John Bapst of Bangor football team this fall.
He’s been the LTC’s leading rusher, with 1,725 yards heading into Saturday’s conference championship game at Foxcroft Academy.
He’s been one of the Crusaders’ leading tacklers on defense.
And he’s served as the team’s Keeper of the Ring.
That ring, belonging to John Bapst head coach Dan O’Connell, was one of the rewards each team member received after winning the 2008 Class C state championship.
But on Crusader Pride Night just before the start of this season, O’Connell gave his ring to Wetherbee to stow away as a means of temporarily putting the championship already won in the past and focusing on the future.
“Coach said at the beginning of the season that what we did last year was something we’ll remember for the rest of our lives, but that this is a different season,” said Wetherbee.
Wetherbee kept the ring in his room throughout the fall, but it re-emerged after John Bapst earned its third straight trip to the regional final last Saturday with a 35-14 semifinal win over Mattanawcook Academy of Lincoln.
“After the Mattanawcook game we brought it back out,” said Wetherbee, “sort of as a motivational thing because any games we play from now on are at the championship level, and the ring is a reminder of what’s out there.”
That John Bapst has followed up its first championship season in 32 years with a 9-1 record and another chance at an Eastern Maine Class C title this fall is in no small part due to Wetherbee’s effort on the field.
After rushing for 1,353 yards a year ago, the 5-foot-8, 165-pound senior easily surpassed that total this year as more of the Crusaders’ offensive responsibilities fell into his hands.
His raw speed remains a featured quality of his game, both in getting to the line of scrimmage quickly and then exploding through holes made by the offensive line.
“A big thing is the way he hits the hole so fast,” said Foxcroft Academy defensive back Josiah Richard. “He’s right at the hole, and then he gets one block and he’s through it and right up on you so fast.”
Another key to his increased output was Wetherbee’s anticipation of his expanded duties after the likes of quarterback Derrick Smith, fullback Chase Huckestein and wideout Chris Fogler all graduated last June and wide receiver Shane Hass moved to quarterback this fall.
“He really dedicated himself to the weight room to become stronger than before,” said John Bapst coach Dan O’Connell. “He was strong before but might not always have broken that second-level tackle like he does now.
“The way he runs as low and behind his pads as he does makes him difficult to bring down.”
That greater reliance on strength has enabled Wetherbee to find more success running between the tackles, thanks to the offensive line play of Jason Pulley, Keith Nelson, John Ashman, Chris Desmond and Bill Stoddard.
“Wetherbee’s a great athlete,” said Foxcroft quarterback Ryan Stroud. “He’s got good speed, good strength, he hits the hole hard and he doesn’t go down easily. Most of the time people are trying to read holes and find what’s open. He makes his own holes, and I think that’s ultimately what makes him a great running back. He’s a good downhill runner.”
Stroud and the rest of the Ponies should know. Wetherbee rushed for 213 yards when Foxcroft and John Bapst closed out the regular season with a battle of the unbeatens at Oakes Field in Dover-Foxcroft.
He had 129 yards and two touchdowns in the first quarter alone, but when Foxcroft took the lead just before halftime and quickly broke the game open in the third quarter, the Crusaders had to abandon their running game.
Foxcroft won the first clash 46-15 — and with it earned home-field advantage for Saturday’s rematch.
“We dwelled on it for a couple of days, it was probably the worst second half we played all season,” said Wetherbee. “We made a lot of mental mistakes in that game, but between the Dexter and Mattanawcook Academy [playoff] games the last two weeks we’ve taken a big step in terms of reuniting as a team.”
Now Wetherbee and Co. aim to keep building on that momentum for one — or ideally two — more weekends.
There’s a ring at stake.