Portland High has churned out 3,295 yards rushing through nine games – eight in the regular season and one in the playoffs. Justin Zukowski was the leading rusher in Eastern Class A with 1,531 yards in the regular season. After every game the Bulldogs’ runners are quick to credit the offensive line.
You can bet they know who butters their bread. Or more accurately, who buys the doughnuts.
“Every Saturday, Jayvon brings us doughnuts,” said offensive guard Luigi Grimaldi.
Grimaldi was referring to Jayvon Pitts-Young, a senior halfback who has contributed 410 yards.
The team has practice Saturday mornings to review Friday night’s game film. The linemen have first dibs on the doughnuts.
Before the season the Bulldogs knew what they had for talent in the backfield with Zukowski and Pitts-Young. They weren’t so sure in the line.
There’s no question now, although it took a few position changes and promotions from the junior varsity to find the right combination.
“I do it for the line when they do a great job,” said Pitts-Young about buying doughnuts. “It’s killing my bank account.”
The starting interior line of center Stephen Walsh, guards Josh Sullivan and Grimaldi, and tackles Jake Dunton and Dominic DiMillo have been stellar all season. Even in the opening game against Cheverus, Portland’s only loss, the line showed flashes of what was to come.
Pitts-Young has had to make stops at the doughnut place every Saturday.
“I like to reward people for a job well done. Our line is a little underrated,” he said.
Portland and Cheverus will meet for the second time this season at 12:30 p.m. Saturday at Cheverus High with a berth in the Class A state final at stake.
The teams are playing for the Eastern Maine championship after being moved from the West this season because of the state’s football realignment.
The game matches two of the better lines in the state. The Stags have a couple of line veterans in center Pat Ball and tackle Greg Grinnell, just like the Bulldogs.
“We’ve improved since the Cheverus game,” said Walsh. “We’re mentally tougher and physically stronger.”
Walsh was a tackle last season who was moved to center.
“Stephen has really blossomed at center,” said line coach Mark Renna, in his second year with the Bulldogs but with 13 years experience as a varsity line coach, including six at Cheverus.
Grimaldi was moved from center to guard to take advantage of his speed. At a University of Maine camp last summer, Grimaldi, a senior, was timed in 4.6 seconds in the 40.
The two returning starters from last season are tackles Dunton and DiMillo. Dunton was a guard last season playing alongside DiMillo.
Renna said he and head coach Jim Hartman had to put the line pieces together.
“We were missing one guy to make it all work,” said Renna.
That one guy was Sullivan, who was a junior varsity tight end a year ago.
“It was kind of a late move but it worked,” said Renna. “You have to trust the kids. They’ve done everything we’ve asked of them. Jake Dutton was asked to play tackle this season. He just did it without any questions asked. They’ve very athletic and very adaptable.”
Remarkably, Dutton and Grimaldi have played on the same team since the third grade. All five went to Lyman Moore Middle School.
What makes for an effective line?
“You have to think on the spot,” said Dutton. “You have to be quick with what you’re doing and know everyone else’s assignments.”
Said Grimaldi: “If one guy screws up, we all screw up.”
While some people questioned how effective Portland’s line might be this season, the guys who were going to be in the trenches didn’t.
“We knew we were going to have a good season,” said Sullivan. “We worked hard in the offseason. We knew we had to continue to work hard coming into the season because there were no set positions.”
Portland’s line versatility is evident when the positions are changed to further enhance the team’s strategy. When the Bulldogs want a power game, they’ll put DiMillo and Dutton, who both weigh 260 pounds, on the same side.
“We’ll put the speed guys on one side and the power guys on the other,” said Renna. “We’ve done that in a couple of games.”
Renna called Portland’s line “one of the two best he’s coached.”
“They’re a tight-knit group who I really enjoy,” he said.
If the Bulldogs are able to put it together and win their ninth straight game, it will mean the program’s first berth in the state championship game since 2002.
And for the linemen?
Tom Chard can be contacted at 791-6419 or at: