Gray-New Gloucester Patriots players practice defending the run during preseason in Gray. (Randy Whitehouse/Sun Journal)
GRAY — The slogan on the back of Gray-New Gloucester football T-shirts reads “Stay in the moment.”
The Patriots couldn’t wait to escape last season. An 0-8 record punctuated by an embarrassing on-field incident that led to head coach Duane Greaton stepping down during the season made for a forgettable fall.
Gray-New Gloucester turned to new coach Brian Jahna in hopes he could bring the program, which reached the playoffs just three years ago, back to respectability.
Players have responded well to Jahna, who coached the previous six years at Lake Region. The change in the atmosphere at practice alone has them optimistic the program is back on the upswing.
“Football is fun again,” said senior tackle/linebacker Mikey Foster. “We have our core values and he wants us to follow those. He grades us on those. He wants us to stay in the moment, like it says on our shirts, don’t focus on the past.”
Lake Region was on the verge of dropping to a junior varsity-only level when Jahna took over that program. The Lakers didn’t win more than two games in his first five seasons but set the standards that led to a 5-4 record last year, their first winning season since 2004. The Lakers made their first playoff appearance in a decade, losing to eventual Class C South champion Cape Elizabeth in the quarterfinals.
Having watched the Patriots from afar as a conference rival, Jahna believed the players would respond to a simple, positive message. So far, neither side has been disappointed.
“We want to get better at football, be competitive and have some fun doing it,” he said.
“The camaraderie here is fantastic. Our attendance is stable,” said Jahha, who had a little more than 20 players in preseason. “And they’re just constantly working hard. They’re pushing the coaches to kind of keep up with them. We had a template laid out for them and they’re surpassing that. They’re quick learners.”
Varsity veterans are making sure younger players don’t get left behind on the learning curve, too.
“We’re a pretty tight group this year. In years past, it hasn’t quite been like that,” senior QB/wide receiver/defensive back Andrew Topham said. “This year, I think we’re all on the same page.”
An easier schedule should make the Patriots more competitive in C South this year. But Jahna is more interested in how his players respond to adversity.
“When we make a mistake, he just wants us to brush it off and think about the play that’s coming up next,” senior quarterback/linebacker Connor Myatt said.
“We’re focusing on right now,” Jahna said, “don’t worry about the past. Don’t focus on the present too much. Just worry about the plays in front of us. And the guys have embraced that. We’re right here, right now, together, and that’s all it really is.”
Gray-New Gloucester Patriots players practice during preseason in Gray.
Gray-New Gloucester Patriots players and coaches practice defending the run during preseason in Gray.
Gray-New Gloucester Patriots players practice defending the run during preseason in Gray.