ROCKLAND, Maine — At age 26, Wes Drinkwater already has a lot invested in the Oceanside High School football program.
He played as a center and defensive lineman for the team’s predecessor at Rockland District High School between 2001 and 2004, initially for his father Gene, who served as the Tigers’ head coach for five seasons.
After continuing his football career at Husson University, the South Thomaston native returned home and has been active in coaching the sport at both the middle school and high school levels, including two years as a high school varsity assistant and last fall as head coach of the local middle school program.
This fall he’ll get the chance to lead the Mariners’ program from top to bottom after recently being named Oceanside’s new varsity head coach.
Drinkwater replaces Woody Moore, who earlier this year stepped down from the post after six seasons for career reasons.
“It’s a great opportunity, and being a young guy I have a lot of energy to put into the program,” said Drinkwater. “I’m married but we don’t have any kids, so this is kind of like my baby. I’m looking to help the program grow, bring in some new kids and new life, and take what Woody did and try to go a little further.”
Oceanside has had some difficulty with participation numbers in recent years, a fact magnified once Rockland and neighboring Georges Valley of Thomaston merged two years ago. Because of the combined enrollment, the consolidated program was reclassified up from Class C to the larger-school Class B.
“The biggest challenge is numbers, getting kids into the football program,” said Drinkwater, a lobsterman by trade. “One of the things I feel I excel at is getting kids involved. We had a real successful middle school team last fall and it was all because we had good numbers.”
Drinkwater is optimistic about Oceanside’s long-term football future in part because of the participation rate at the lower levels, including a healthy influx of young players from the towns previously served by Georges Valley, which did not have its own football program.
“Football is a numbers game, the more you have, the more competitive you can be,” said Drinkwater.
And of the 34 players who completed last season on Drinkwater’s middle school team, 18 are poised to join the high school ranks this fall. He describes that class as “all better-than-average football players.”
“I knew going into this job that there was a solid foundation to build on,” he said. “Even if there might be a couple of tough years because they’re so young, there is light at the end of the tunnel.”
Drinkwater also is encouraged by the development at Oceanside and at the youth level locally of a wrestling program, which he says complements football with their shared physical nature.
Moore guided Rockland/Oceanside to a 19-31 record during his coaching tenure, including an LTC semifinal berth during his first season at Rockland in 2007.
Moore’s teams competed in Class C while at Rockland, but after forming Oceanside in 2011 the consolidated program was reclassified into Eastern Maine Class B.
The Mariners finished 3-5 last fall.
Under the expansion of Maine high school football from three to four classes approved by the Maine Principals’ Association in late March, Oceanside will compete in Western Maine Class B during the 2013 season.
That 11-school division also will include Falmouth, Fryeburg Academy, Gorham, Greely of Cumberland, Kennebunk, Marshwood of South Berwick, Morse of Bath, Mount Ararat of Topsham, Westbrook and York.
Drinkwater anticipates a rebuilding season this fall as Oceanside adjusts to a new schedule and seeks to replace a large number of skill-position players who will graduate next month.
But he plans to draw from the examples of those who taught him the sport to make that transition as brief as possible.
“I hope I can use what I learned from my father, [former Rockland] coach Daryle Weiss, Woody and then Gabby Price and Nat Clark at Husson,” said Drinkwater. “When I was at Husson I really learned from them how to run a program and how to invest in your kids, and I hope I can do for the high school kids here what they did for me when I was at Husson.”