Dirigo player ends career with a first

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HEBRON – When Dirigo’s Josh Daley looks back on his high school football career, there are more losses than wins to reflect upon. His has been a career of highs and lows.

And there are many, many firsts.

Daley is the latest first, as in the first Dirigo representative in the Maine Shrine Lobster Bowl (7:30 p.m., Waterhouse Field in Biddeford). His presence in the high school football All-Star Game is recognition of how far he and the Dirigo program have come in just four years.

Playing defensive back for the West squad, Daley will be playing his final organized football game and fittingly, will be surrounded by lots of new teammates and coaches.

“Class C is a good level to play at, but when you come here, it’s a whole new thing, so it’s been a fun experience,” said Daley, who will be attending the University of Maine in the fall.

Daley’s four-year career goes back to the birth of the Dirigo program, which actually started as a cooperative effort with Buckfield High School. After two years, Dirigo decided to go it alone.

The Cougars made gains in the rough-and-tumble Campbell Conference during Daley’s junior and senior seasons. It wasn’t easy. There was some instability. In his four years, Daley played for four different coaches.

“With every new coach, you’d start over again,” Daley said. “That didn’t help us at all. It kind of set us back.”

Included in the coaching carousel was Daley’s father, Hart, who led the Cougars through their first year on their own.

Daley played a number of positions that year, including quarterback, as his father tried to find the right combination of players. Dirigo didn’t pick up a win until the second-to-last game of the season, and the struggle wore on father and son, Daley said.

“I love my dad, but I guess there’s some pressure on you with your father around,” he said. “It’s hard taking orders on a field as well as going home and hearing about it. He was great. He was positive to me. But it is hard playing under your father.”

The 5-foot-9, 150-pound Daley stuck at running back and led the Cougars in rushing.

Not coincidentally, Dirigo won four games, finished within a win of the playoffs and proved they belonged on the gridiron with the conference’s best teams.

“We started to hit back. We stood toe-to-toe with a lot of these big, powerhouse teams like Lisbon,” he said. “It felt good leaving the school feeling like we had established something and believing that for the next few years, they should do pretty well.”

“Kids are starting to come up through feeder programs. Now it’s just starting to build and Dirigo’s starting to get football back. Now, we have some great athletes there,” he added.

“I think (current coach) Doug (Gilbert) will be sticking around. Once we get that coach with that (continuity) it will be great because we can build on what’s already there.”

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