AUGUSTA — Bobby Begin’s dream football season didn’t end in November when he and his Thornton Academy teammates raised the gold ball at Fitzpatrick Stadium. In some ways, it was just getting started.
Begin and John Bapst’s Kurt Massey were named the winners of the 2012 Frank J. Gaziano Lineman Awards on Sunday, putting a bow on their already well-decorated football careers.
“It’s been an incredible ride, and it’s still not over yet,” Begin said. “It’s been incredible every step of the way.”
Begin was named the top offensive lineman and Massey the top defensive lineman in a banquet ceremony held at the Augusta Civic Center. The awards have been given annually since 2010 to the top senior linemen in the state.
The winners each receive a trophy and a $5,000 scholarship. Runners-up Jack Lucy of Orono, Andy Martel of Bonny Eagle, Zak Kendall of Mt. Blue and Greg Duff of Bangor each receive a $1,000 scholarship.
Begin was a two-year starter at center for Thornton and was a all-SMAA linebacker for the Class A state champion Golden Trojans. He helped pave the way for star running back Andrew Libby and one of the most dominating running games in the state.
“He’s very athletic, very smart,” Thornton Academy coach Kevin Kezal said of Begin. “He was making all the calls for us offensively as a center and making all the calls for us defensively as a middle linebacker. We knew Bobby was the one kid we could not afford to lose just because of the drop-off we would have at his position and the emotional leader that he was on the field for us.”
Begin was a team captain and a semifinalist for the James J. Fitzpatrick Trophy. He has a 3.96 GPA and is ranked in the top 10 percent in his class of 381 students. He volunteers for Thornton’s Thanksgiving Food Drive, Christmas families, youth football program and a Saco-area soup kitchen.
Begin, who plans to attend the University of Maine to study accounting, is the second Gaziano winner from Thornton Academy. Andrew Libby’s older brother, Luke, won the defensive lineman award in 2011.
Massey, who is from Orrington, is the first John Bapst player to win the award. He was a four-year starter at defensive end and a three-year starter on offense. A team captain, he led the Little Ten Conference in sacks with seven and was the second-leading tackler for the Crusaders’ No. 2-ranked defense, and was a member of the LTC’s all-star team the last two years. He has a 3.7 GPA and is an honors student.
“It just feels amazing because all of my hard work has finally paid off,” said Massey, who is considering Merrimack College, University of New Hampshire and University of Maine to continue his playing career. “I do everything I do for my team and my family, so it’s just great to get this award.”
“As much as anything, Curt was our rock,” John Bapst coach Dan O’Connell said. “There was a noticeable difference when Curt was in the game and when he wasn’t. He had a motor that wouldn’t quit. He was determined to make an impact regardless of what side the play was run, to him or against him. He’s the epitome of what it means to be a football player.”
Massey has participated in the Komen Race for the Cure four times and supported the Walk Against Myeloma. He has also volunteered for the Free the Z Turkey Drive for Manna Soup Kitchens and at the Sudbury Village retirement home.
Like Begin, Kendall celebrated a state championship in Portland two months ago, helping Mt. Blue win the Class B title as a standout defensive end and tight end/running back.
“It’s been a really rewarding experience,” he said. “The way they run this award, it’s done so well. Coming up here for the banquet, I had no idea what to expect. They just did a fantastic job. It’s a great tradition that I really hope lives on for a long, long time.”
The finalists and winners were selected from a group of 31 linemen, nominated by their coaches, and 19 semifinalists. Nominees submitted an essay and game film, which were reviewed by a 12-member selection committee comprised mostly of current and former football coaches. Semifinalists met with the committee for an interview, and award recipients were selected by the committee based on their strong leadership on the field, in the classroom and in the community.
Massey and Begin agreed the recognition is long overdue for the unsung linemen who do most of the grunt work while the guys who score the touchdowns get the glory.
“It’s a lot of hard work (being a lineman),” Massey said. “There’s a lot of camaraderie that goes into it, everybody having to be one unit. I love my team and I love the guys I play with.”
“It’s great to see these linemen get these awards, because what little recognition you get isn’t much when you’ve got the Andrew Libby’s on your team,” a grinning Begin said. “It’s a great honor to be recognized with the caliber of the players that have won it.”