Quantity is not a luxury afforded to head coach Chris Childs and the Lebanon football program.
Working at a school with an enrollment of under 600 students, the longtime Raiders coach simply doesn’t have the same number of kids chomping at the bit to play football that Division I schools such as Londonderry, which has roughly 1,500 students, typically do.
It’s not hard to see why Lebanon has 40 players compared with the Lancers’ 69, and, because of that, Childs must make do with what he has, something he’s excelled at this year.
That means playing guys on both sides of the ball. This isn’t to say Londonderry coach Jimmy Lauzon doesn’t do the same, but chances are Lebanon has more kids playing all 48 minutes.
Ask seniors Jon Willeman and Wade Rainey what they think and they won’t say boo. In fact, a strong argument can be made that Lebanon’s top leaders are better football players for it.
Take Willeman for example, who doubles as the team’s starting quarterback and free safety.
In Saturday’s semifinal victory over Hillsboro-Deering-Hopkinton, Willeman threw two touchdown passes, returned a fumble for a score and intercepted a pass in the Raiders’ 41-0 win.
He was also key in taking away the Redhawks’ best offensive threat: running back Colby Quiet.
“(Quiet) was definitely the focal point,” Childs said after that game. “We wanted to make sure we paid attention to him. We manned him up with Jon Willeman and that was the game plan. Just to make sure we always knew where he was.”
Willeman’s fingerprints were all over that game, just as they were in the quarterfinals against Laconia when he intercepted three passes.
Somewhat unsurprisingly, being able to read a defense as a quarterback ties in really well with the ability to read an offense as a safety.
“I feel like I’m able to read the offense and see what they want to do easier,” Willeman said. “Honestly, I think the offense and defense with being the QB and the safety translate nicely. Being QB definitely helped out with being safety this year. I’ve played safety in the past, but last year I didn’t play much defense because I was coming off injury and I was trying to stay healthy.”
If quarterback and safety mesh well together, so too does the combination of running back and linebacker — at least in Rainey’s opinion.
Rainey racked up well over 100 yards rushing last week including a 61-yard touchdown on the ground and another on a 52-yard punt return. He also made his mark helping to stuff Quiet close to the line of scrimmage each time he touched the ball. A solid game for Rainey, to say the least.
“For me, running the football has allowed me to kind of see where creases appear in the defense,” Rainey explained. “On the defensive side of the ball it has kind of helped me move guys around to cover up where those gaps open up. I just try to put guys in a position to make plays defensively. When we’re lining up, just make sure we’re lining up in the right spots. That way we can perform to the best of our ability.”
It plays well into one of Rainey’s biggest roles, which is being an extension of Childs and the coaching staff out on the field defensively.
No doubt Willeman and Rainey will have to be at their best come Sunday when they take on Trinity in the NHIAA Division III championship at the University of New Hampshire’s Wildcat Stadium.
The Pioneers feature two talented running backs in the Thibault brothers — John and James.
“I expect it’s going to be a hard football game,” Childs said. “Both the Thibault brothers run really hard. Of course, John gets a lot of the press. He’s had over 2,000 yards rushing this year, so we’re going to have our hands full stopping him.”
For their part, Willeman and Rainey are doing a good job as leaders, as they have all season, trying not to overcomplicate things this week.
“We start our week with film and then, during the playoffs, we’re pretty much just running through what the other team does every day,” Rainey said. “Just drilling that into our heads. We’re running through our own stuff, too. Every day just making sure we have it all down at this point.
“At this point, it’s a lot more mental grind. Staying focused, staying ready and being prepared.”
Childs knows how fortunate he is to have these two young men leading his team this year.
“These guys are just super intelligent kids, too, so it’s not just that they’re great athletes,” Childs said. “They’re good kids and they’re smart kids, so with this group we can just show them what we want. Jon and Wade do a really good job of making sure the kids are lining up where they’re supposed to be and how we want them lined up.”
Willeman and Rainey will need to be on the top of their game. They know that and there’s little doubt that they’ll let their teammates know, too.
“They’re a great football team,” Rainey said of Trinity. “They wouldn’t be in the championship game if they weren’t and we know that. We’ve gone into every day knowing that this time is going to be a lot different than the first time we played them. We just have to be ready and prepared for what’s probably going to be the toughest game of the entire season.”
“We know they won’t give up,” Willeman added. “We know they’re going to play four quarters. Just prepare ourselves mentally and physically and be prepared for a battle on Sunday.”
Lebanon (10-1) defeated Trinity (10-1) 21-7 in Week 2 of the regular season.
But a lot has changed since then, and the Raiders are going to need both of their two-way stars to be at their best if they hope to raise their first division title since winning the Division IV championship in 2010. Their opponent that year? Trinity.