Top of the Lines: Heavy Lifting Pays Off for Hanover Trenchmen

  • Photographed in Hanover, N.H., on Aug. 9, 2018, Hanover High School football linemen, from left, freshman Ryan Carter, sophomore Noah Bradley, senior Colby Marsh, senior Eamon Worden, twin brothers and seniors Elijah and Robert Putnam, senior Dakota Hanchett, sophomore Ben Wagner, senior Tyler Wittmann and senior Chris Robertson (not pictured) recently competed in and swept the Lineman Challenge in St. Johnsbury, Vt. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • The Lineman Challenge individual winning hardware brought home by twin brothers Elijah and Robert Putnam, both seniors at Hanover High School, are photographed in a piece of equipment -- a hollowed-out log -- created by teammate Dakota Hanchett for the competition in Hanover, N.H., on Aug. 9, 2018. Elijah Putnam won the under 225-pound category and teammate Colby Marsh placed third. Robert Putnam won the over 225-pound category and Hanchett placed third. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Whenever they are together for training or competition, a group of Hanover High School linemen -- including seniors Eamon Worden, left, and Tyler Wittman, right -- break it up with the call "Beef!" as they did after their photo session in Hanover, N.H., on Aug. 9, 2018. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Sport Editor
Friday, August 10, 2018

Hanover — Dakota Hanchett logged some serious outdoor time this summer. He has the tan to prove it.

He’s been doing yard maintenance. He’s been installing septic tanks. And, like his fellow linemen on the Hanover High School football team, he’s been occasionally taking a heavy log — one he harvested himself — and lifting it until his arms go numb.

The Marauders’ real chores begin on Monday with the start of preseason workouts. Over the summer, however, Hanover’s trench crew had last month’s Northeast Kingdom Lineman Challenge at St. Johnsbury Academy targeted as a training test, one the Marauders aced with flying colors.

Hanover won the team title and also claimed individual wins in the two weight classes set up for the competition.

“The best thing is the kids are really motivated by goals and competition,” Hanover coach Sam Cavallaro said this week. “I think it gives the linemen a chance to have an identity on the team, and they can go out and compete.”

An outgrowth of seven-on-seven football that’s swept some parts of the national high school landscape, the Lineman Challenge gives the guys who block a competition of their own while the skill-position players play pitch and catch.

Hanover had hit a similar event in southern New Hampshire in past years, but Cavallaro brought them to St. Johnsbury last summer. Hilltoppers coach Rich Alercio models his Lineman Challenge after so-called strongman competitions, going so far as to enlist the help of a Littleton, N.H., gym that specializes in training for such events.

“We’d been traveling for seven-on-seven camps to Exeter (N.H.) to compete … and we thought, ‘Why not host one?’ ” Alercio said in a phone interview. “We’ve been hosting (seven-on-seven) for four or five years, but in our second year we started doing strongman. Dick Emery, at the time one of our assistant coaches, said, ‘Why not do something for the big guys?’

“He has participated in strongman and had access to the equipment. It’s was a natural thing to do that so all of our kids could be a part of it.”

St. Jay’s schedule incorporated multiple events both for teams and individuals. Teams ran with a 110-pound sand bag, tossed a medicine ball in a line, drove a weighted sled and flipped a tractor tire for time and closed with a tug-of-war. Individuals pulled a weighted sled, did dead lifts, performed a farmer’s carry (weights on either end of a bar) and competed in the log lift.

The latter event landed right in Hanchett’s wheelhouse.

“Coach was basically talking, during one of the lifts in the morning, about doing the log press,” the senior two-way lineman said. “We were doing basic bar lifts to try and prepare for it. I asked Coach to give me a picture of what we’re doing, figured we weren’t going to get the muscle strength where we needed it. I said to Coach that I’d just build one, and he goes, ‘OK, whatever, I doubt you will,’ basically.

“I told my dad my ideas. Coach gave me the measurements. I went out into the woods, cut the tree down and cut into a section longer than what I needed because I didn’t have the proper scales at home to weigh it. I cut it up, put the bolts in, put in holes to put your arms and hands and brought it here. In the parking lot, we had it on a scale, getting it to the proper weight and everything. It was off by a couple of pounds, so I pulled out the chainsaw and whacked if off in the truck.”

The hollowed-out log weighed a good 120 pounds and gave the Marauders an idea of what they’d be facing at St. Johnsbury, at least in one event. They also manufactured or borrowed other implements to train specifically for the Challenge throughout the summer.

“The team aspect, we’re as one here at Hanover, but we want to be a part of everything and do the best we can,” Hanchett said. “If we can all succeed together, that’s more of an accomplishment than one person succeeding.”

The Marauders did plenty of both during the July 28 competition.

Hanover won the team relays, senior Bobby Putnam took individual honors in the 225-pounds-and-above weight class with Hanchett finishing third, and Putnam’s twin brother, Elijah, grabbed the under-225-pounds division — the so-called lightweights, “although the guys under 225 don’t want me to call it ‘lightweight,’ ” Cavallaro cracked — with senior Colby Marsh placing third.

Bobby Putnam used his older brother Nick’s win at St. Jay last year, not to mention another important issue, as motivation.

“My dad told me if I didn’t get first, I’d have to shave my beard,” the redheaded Putnam confessed. “I was pretty happy when I won. I got to keep my beard.”

Putnam’s clean-chinned twin saw the Challenge, as well as the training for it, as a good bonding exercise for the Marauders.

“I think it sets the bar high for all of the other linemen,” Elijah Putnam said. “They want to be really good. It gives us a head start onto the season.”

As with all high school football teams, Hanover has adjustments to make as fall creeps closer. That includes on the line, where Nick Putnam and Shrine Bowl selection Mike Staiger graduated to leave a pair of vacancies.

The Marauders have also posted back-to-back nine-win seasons capped by runs to the state semifinals. They’ve set a high bar on the field. Now they’ve set a high bar off of it as well.

“What it does is it keeps us in shape before the season starts,” Hanchett said. “As soon as the preseason starts, it’s just going to be go-go-go. If we’re not in shape before then, it’s going to affect the whole entire team.

“Since Coach Cav has started this, it’s actually been beneficial to the whole entire team. The line is where a lot of your work is at. … If we don’t work hard in the offseason, we’re not going to be as strong as we are now.”

Audibles: Hanover will once again be hosting a fundraising preseason jamboree on Aug. 21 at Merriman-Branch Field, with junior varsity scrimmages starting at 4 p.m and the varsities following at 5:25 p.m. Lebanon, Hartford and Newport are scheduled to attend, as will Plymouth, Monadnock and Burr & Burton. The jamboree raises money for the Special Olympics and the New Hampshire Football Officials Association’s scholarship fund. NHFOA referees working the jamboree will be donating their fees and time to the cause.

Greg Fennell can be reached at gfennell@vnews.com or 603-727-3226.