PORTSMOUTH, N.H. — Matthew Zinck can play any spot along the offensive and defensive lines for Marshwood High’s football team.

As a junior, he started a handful of games at center, helping Marshwood go 12-0 and win its third Class B state championship in four years. This year, he has had a start or two. But entering the state championship game Saturday against Brunswick at Portland’s Fitzpatrick Stadium, Zinck is a reserve. He’s a weekday worker on the “look squad” – the group that simulates the next opponent for the benefit of the starters.

“You’re the one getting beat on,” is the way Marshwood look-team veteran Tucker Davis put it.

But rather than being disgruntled, Zinck is proud of his effort, secure in the knowledge that he is a contributing part of a team intent on winning another championship.

“It’s not just about yourself. It’s about putting people in front of you and knowing that what the outcome is, that’s more important than what you’re personally receiving,” Zinck said during a break at a bone-chilling practice on Portsmouth High’s artificial turf field. “We, as a team, want to win, and that’s the goal for all of us. So whatever way we do that, I’m going to try to help.”

Marshwood is making its fifth state championship game appearance in Coach Alex Rotsko’s seven seasons. The Hawks have standout skill players, such as two-year starting quarterback Tommy Springer, fullback Justin Bryant (1,153 yards, 16 touchdowns) and dangerous wingbacks Trevor Chase (13 touchdowns) and John Valentine. They have powerful, veteran linemen, like Adam Doyon and Drew Gregor.


But what helps separate Marshwood from most teams are the number of dedicated older players – guys like Zinck, Davis and fellow seniors Joe Wessling, Connor Nickerson and Jordan Utley – who have stuck with the program and embraced their unglamorous roles with little game-time reward.

“Kids like that make your program,” said Rotsko.

“Being on the look team is a crappy job, I don’t care where you are, whether it’s Marshwood or Oklahoma. But you absolutely need them. You may not like your role, but especially in football, you’ve got to accept your role. Those seniors, they’ve all accepted their roles.”

They give the Hawks quality depth. For example, when Bryant twisted an ankle in the fourth quarter of Marshwood’s 14-13 win against Kennebunk in the South final, Nickerson came in and picked up a key first down.

Most of all, they push the starters every day in practice.

“My whole idea behind what I do is, even though I might not be the one out on the field, I’m going to make sure those guys that step on the field are ready,” Wessling said. “I’d rather they have a tougher practice with me than the guys they have to deal with in the games on Friday nights.”


Rotsko said Wessling is Marshwood’s “best practice player.” After an exceptionally strong week leading up to the South final, the 5-foot-10, 170-pounder earned a snap at defensive tackle when Kennebunk faced third-and-13 midway through the first quarter.

“We decided to use him on pass downs in the game. He got a quarterback sack. It was awesome. The kids on our sidelines went crazy,” Rotsko said.

When Wessling returned to the sidelines, his teammates were chanting his name.

“I have no words to describe how proud the team was of me,” Wessling said.

Opposing coaches often note Rotsko’s teams get better as the season progresses.

Doyon, a team captain, said the Hawks’ reserves deserve part of the credit.


“Without those kids that go hard every week in practice, we don’t get better. So they’re just as much of a key part to this team as (the starters),” Doyon said.

Davis, one of the emotional leaders on the sideline during games, says he goes through the daily grind because of the “brotherhood,” and because he knows his efforts are appreciated.

Also among the unsung ranks are senior starting linebackers Spencer Hammond and Dylan Strong. Hammond, a former running back, also starts at offensive guard.

They both went through the challenge of seeing their playing time yo-yo. Strong started a couple games as a sophomore. Hammond was getting significant action early in his junior season, but by the end of Marshwood’s title run in 2017, they were key practice players.

Hammond said accepting a reduced role is easier because “Coach Rotsko has this tradition of excellence.” The former head coach at American International College, Rotsko has a career record of 252-51 as a high school coach, including 11 Western Massachusetts Super Bowl titles at Longmeadow High.

“It’s amazing to be a part of this program, because the coaching staff is so great, the guys are so great. Everyone’s so dedicated,” Hammond said.

Steve Craig can be reached at 791-6413 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: SteveCCraig

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