ROCKLAND, Maine — The travel bill may be a little higher than usual, but players and supporters of the Oceanside High School football team hope to make that sacrifice pay off via increased stability within the program this fall.
Oceanside, the third-year consolidation of Rockland and Georges Valley of Thomaston, will compete in Western Maine Class B under the new four-class statewide realignment approved by the Maine Principals’ Association in late March after playing in Eastern B the previous two seasons.
It won’t be the first time the program — or more specifically its predecessor at Rockland District High School — has played a Western Maine schedule, as Rockland was part of the Western C Campbell Conference in 2001 and 2002.
And while the latest geographic shift means the Mariners face long-distance road games at Fryeburg Academy, Marshwood of South Berwick and Westbrook, school officials last spring felt that was a better alternative than trying to compete in the revised Eastern B field that included five teams relocating from Class A — including two-time defending Eastern A champion Lawrence of Fairfield.
Oceanside’s football-playing population has responded favorably to the move, as first-year head coach Wes Drinkwater reports having 48 players on this year’s roster — considerably more than in most recent years.
That roster includes 18 seniors, many of whom have returned to the sport after taking a year or more off.
“We’ve got an experienced group of football players without much varsity experience,” said Drinkwater, a former player at Rockland District High School and Husson University in Bangor. He also coached at the middle school and high school levels before being appointed to the varsity post in May.
Woody Moore, who coached the program for the last six years, resigned for career reasons.
Among the Oceanside seniors who have found their way back to football is Hunter Grindle, the Mariners’ new quarterback as well as a starting defensive back.
Grindle played quarterback in the local youth football ranks through his freshman season but spent the last two years focusing more on competing in the CrossFit exercise program.
Drinkwater hopes to capitalize on Grindle’s 6-foot-1-inch, 190-pound athleticism out of Oceanside’s pistol offensive formation.
“We’ll run a lot of play action just to get him out of the pocket,” said Drinkwater.
Other key players for the Mariners will include junior tailback and outside linebacker Preston Spear, senior fullback and outside linebacker Garrett Burns and senior running back and cornerback Damien Ball.
Senior Thomas Smalley and junior Dylan McClean will spearhead a line that boasts significant depth.
“We’ve only one player who plays both ways along the line of scrimmage,” Drinkwater said, “and that gives the kids a lot of reps in their specific spots.”
Drinkwater is fine-tuning his defensive lineup to emphasize speed and tackling ability.
“Defensively, we want the kids on the field who can catch the kids who are running with the ball,” he said. “I want to spread our athletes all over the field and control the edges.”
Oceanside, 3-5 a year ago in Eastern B, isn’t considered one of the favorites in Western B this fall.
That preseason status has been accorded defending Western B champion Marshwood, Westbrook and Kennebunk, which has moved down to Class B after nearly knocking off Class A state champion Thornton Academy of Saco in last year’s regional quarterfinals before dropping a 42-34 decision.
But Drinkwater, who has been aided in his first season as a varsity coach by a staff of assistants that includes former LaSalle University head coach Archie Stalcup, believes there’s a place for Oceanside in the competitive mix.
“We’ve got depth at the key positions, including the offensive line, and we’ve got tough skill-position players who are suited for what I want us to do,” he said. “I think we’ll do fine. It’s going to be a challenge, but I think we can make a run.”