The first thing you notice about the starting linemen on this year’s Bucksport High School’s football team is their sheer size.
Averaging approximately 250 pounds per player across the line of scrimmage, the biggest of the Golden Bucks more closely resemble a small-college front than the undefeated Class D North champions.
The group has been instrumental in carrying coach Joel Sankey’s club into Saturday’s 2:30 p.m. state championship game against Lisbon at Fitzpatrick Stadium in Portland.
They were pretty big the last two years, too, but not quite good enough for Bucksport to overcome Foxcroft Academy of Dover-Foxcroft in the 2017 and 2018 Little Ten Conference title games.
So last offseason these big boy Bucks amped up their training regimens to add a good dose of fitness and agility. Now these players aren’t merely the “hogs” up front but weapons in their own right, be it attacking opposing offenses or leading a trio of young running backs to major rushing yardage.
“We’re pretty big, pretty physical, pretty strong, pretty fast,” Bucksport senior lineman David Gross said. “We’ve trained like running backs train, not how linemen train. We switched up our training to try to be more athletic, and that’s been the difference this year.”
That training included hours of workouts in the weight room and smaller group sessions during the summer. Those, conducted by former University of Maine and NFL defensive lineman Mike DeVito at Hampden Academy, typically involved Gross, younger brother Jaxon Gross, Cam Soper, Dawson Eaton, Gavin Billings and Kayden Foster.
“We were a little too slow last year and we weren’t aggressive enough,” David Gross said. “That’s changed.”
The difference is reflected in Bucksport’s undefeated nine-game run heading into the state final.
The Golden Bucks’ defense has yielded only 47 points this fall, a minute average of 5.2 points per contest.
On offense, Bucksport averaged 294.6 rushing yards per game during the regular season behind the offensive line of David Gross, Eaton, Billings, Owen Gaudreau and Julian Shook, along with Soper at tight end.
The Golden Bucks have been even more dominant during the postseason, amassing 972 yards on the ground in their LTC playoff victories over Foxcroft Academy and Dexter — games the Golden Bucks won by a combined 95-20.
“Losing here last year was heartbreaking and it gave us so much motivation in the weight room over the summer,” Eaton said after top-ranked Bucksport’s 46-8 victory over No. 2 Dexter in last Friday’s regional final at Hampden Academy. “We were working out as often as we could in order to prove ourselves this year. We’ve been so determined, and it’s not just physically and muscle. We’re all one heartbeat.”
Billings said the physical training the group has put in together, to create the foundation for this undefeated charge to the championship game, has been at least matched by its collective camaraderie.
“We all work together, we go over blocking, we go over schemes, we’re with each other all the time, so that cohesiveness is always there,” he said. “It’s unlike other teams where two linemen hang out and another three linemen hang out. All five of us hang out, we’re all great friends and we like to work together and get it done.”
The work of the line has helped Bucksport’s three-pronged rushing attack of sophomores Josh Miller and Ty Giberson and freshman Jaxon Gross — all ranging from 205 to 215 pounds apiece — to flourish.
Gross and Miller both have surpassed 1,000 rushing yards entering Saturday’s game while Giberson has chipped in more than 500 yards on the ground.
“We can always count on them, no matter what the down is, no matter what the play is, no matter how many yards we need, we can always rely on them 100 percent,” Eaton said.
“I take a lot of pride in their stats. I enjoy blocking for them every play.”
Bucksport’s final game this season could represent its biggest test. The Golden Bucks’ closest game to date this fall was a come-from-behind 21-14 victory over Class D South foe Oak Hill of Wales. Lisbon (7-3) defeated Oak Hill twice this season, 16-13 in the final week of the regular season and 48-20 in the Class D South semifinals.
“This year we’re just more determined,” Eaton said. “We’re set on one goal and we’re set on achieving that goal and nothing less.”