Leavitt offense coach Dave Bochtler wanted the Hornets’ frontline to be an exclamation point for the team by the end of this season.
The offensive players joined in and helped Bochtler to set an exclamation point in his 35-year football coaching career.
Bochtler’s last game on the touchline came on Saturday when the Hornets won the Class C state championship with a 46-6 win over Medomak Valley.
He began his coaching career in Lewiston in 1988 under Skip Capone and spent some time coaching youth football until Leavitt coach Mike Hathaway called Bochtler in 2002 when Hathaway got the job as head coach at his alma mater.
“We complement each other very well and have such a good relationship that we’ve been able to build this pretty effective offensive system,” Hathaway said. “…Our offense has evolved so much over time, and a lot of it is just discussions he and I have about how to use the techniques and schemes that people use to defend us and how we counteract that.” be able. I will really miss those talks.”
Bochtler’s value goes beyond Leavitt. Earlier this season, Cape Elizabeth coach Sean Green named Bochtler the top offensive line coach in the state. And he’s routinely asked to be an assistant coach at the Lobster Bowl because other coaches want to learn from him, according to his daughter, Catherine Labrie, who said her father “has been the guru of all offensive lines for coaches across the state for over 30 years.”
Hathaway said it means the world to him to have Bochtler on his staff. The proximity to Hathaway is one reason why this was the right time for Bochtler to go out there.
“It was definitely it, one way or another,” said Bochtler. “I’m very close to the Hathaway family and I’ve been with Mike for a long time – 20 years I guess. … There were a number of points that were crucial. I didn’t want to end up like it ended last year (in the regional finals against Cape Elizabeth). And I wanted to date Sawyer Hathaway, Mike’s son. I was in the hospital when the boy was born, I’ve known him all his life, and I wanted to go out when Sawyer was done.
“So that was my last game from the start, no matter what. I’m just glad it ended the way it did.”
Sawyer Hathaway was one of only a few returning starters for Leavitt that season. That included just one full-time offensive lineman, Beau Mayo, coming back. Jace Negley was also a key returnee on the line after making a few starts in place of injured teammates. After that, the front line was an unknown commodity for the Hornets.
“That’s why I had a lot of question marks,” said Bochtler. “And what I said to the kids, I said, ‘Listen, we’re going to be good guys. You can’t be good with the skills that kids have that we have. They are just so good and so fast. I said, ‘The question mark is you. So over the course of the year, we need to turn that question mark into an exclamation point. And I will work on that. We will be better than now.”
Mike Hathaway saw that weekly improvement through to the state championship game, when the Hornets accumulated 441 offensive yards (241 rushing, 200 passing).
“If you look at how we blocked,” Hathaway said, “especially in the playoffs,[Bochtler]helped them overcome that challenge.”
Hathaway said after Saturday’s win that the offensive line made it easy for the Hornets to move the ball and score goals.
Part of that was that Bochtler and Hathaway didn’t let the linemen fail.
“One of the ways I coach is by finding out what skills this particular kid has, what they can excel at in certain blocks and be successful,” Botchtler said. “And what I did is I learned where kids are good at certain things and Mike did a great job naming pieces that our kids could be successful at. We just wanted games where we empower our kids to be successful.
“So we didn’t draw certain kids, we didn’t do certain plays with certain kids because that wasn’t in their ability. But when we made call plays that were within their ability, they succeeded, they felt encouraged, they felt validated, they felt good about what they were doing. And so our kids played with a lot of confidence because we’re just putting them in positions to succeed and calling the games accordingly.”
Hathaway said the line plays great year-round.
“Our skill guys were phenomenal, but their ‘skills’ were enhanced by how well the line played to get them in space,” he added.
Mayo, the senior statesman of the line, was able to demonstrate his skills in the state championship game to Bochtler’s delight. After Sawyer Hathaway caught a short pass from quarterback Noah Carpenter, Hathway turned his back on the end zone and threw a cross to Mayo, who went the rest of the way for a first-half touchdown – the first result of Mayo’s high school career.
“Man, I’ve been coaching for 35 years and it’s probably — I mean, aside from coaching my own son (Buck) at the 2009 state championship — this has to be one of the highlights of my career,” Bochtler said. “… To see one of my guys, who worked so hard for these other guys to get all the awards and get the touchdowns, do one himself was awesome.”
Bochtler said the 2009 state championship team that defeated Cape Elizabeth 12-0 in the Class B state finals was the standard of Leavitt football. He added of this year’s team that “these guys are certainly doing very well.”
FATHER SON SPECIAL
Winning the state championship was bittersweet for Mike Hathaway, and not just for the last coaching session with Bochtler at Leavitt.
It was Hathaway’s last time coaching Sawyer, and next season will be the first time since 2016 that Hathaway will not have a son on the high school team. That was the season before Wyatt, who graduated in 2021, entered the high school program.
“All three of us have spent long hours together in the fields since they were old enough to walk, so it was very special for me to have this opportunity,” Hathaway said. “Many coaches can train their children, but not many can celebrate a state championship with both of them on the field (2019) and not many can see both sons play their last soccer game as state champions. It’s definitely something I won’t take for granted.”
Hathaway said the past two years have been an uphill struggle for his family for a variety of reasons. That included failing to continue an unbeaten championship season in 2019 — with Wyatt the junior quarterback and Sawyer, a freshman trying to play a role — with another shot in 2020 that became Wyatt’s senior tackle football season would have been. COVID-19 had other ideas. Then came the heartbreaking regional final loss to Cape Elizabeth in 2021. And, Hathaway said, Sawyer has struggled with health issues for the past year and a half, including kidney stones that meant he could barely walk some days.
“To see him work so hard and play so well all year was great. Then finishing with a state championship was the icing on the cake,” said Mike Hathaway. “…His toughness and resilience is simply unmatched by most people I know.”
The next childless era as Leavitt coach will last just one season for Hathaway, whose youngest son Jackson will be a freshman in the fall of 2024.
“It was great coaching my kids. There are certainly days when it’s harder, but my kids and I all share a real passion for football, especially here at Leavitt,” he said. “They love sports and they love to compete. As a dad who also loved this when I was a kid, that makes it quite rewarding. It’s been a pretty cool run over the last 10 years or so coaching their teams and their friends to the end and we’ve shared so many special experiences along the way.”
Varsity Maine Football Poll: Leavitt finishes season second behind Oxford Hills