Maine’s best

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PORTLAND – Stop the presses: Jared Turcotte won the Fitzpatrick Trophy.

This wasn’t much of a mystery to anyone. Least of all Spencer, the antsy but well-mannered young man sitting near the front of a crowded banquet room Sunday evening at Holiday Inn By the Bay.

Spencer happens to be Jared Turcotte’s little brother, and at first glance he shares the same gregarious, smiling disposition. When 1981 Fitzy winner Dan Federico opened the envelope and announced that Jared was, indeed, selected Maine’s top high school football player and sportsman, Spencer let out a yelp that would have put the still-reveling Patriots’ partisans in the neighboring sports bars to shame.

Minutes later, wrapping his gifted mitts around the Fitzy was something Turcotte said he wanted to accomplish not for himself but for his school, his city, and yes, his kid brother.

“He’s a good kid. He just needs somebody to sort of guide him in the right direction,” Turcotte said. “He’s never really had a father in his life. I’ve kind of given myself the responsibility of being a father to him.”

We are blessed with great students, great athletes and great people in our world. Once in every million-or-so births, they get wrapped up in one package. And we get Jared Turcotte.

Turcotte deserves this award, this adulation, this bold print. The problem is, when I start throwing around superlatives about student athletes, invariably a killjoy in the crowd will chastise me for placing too much emphasis on a game and setting up a 17-year-old’s fragile psyche for a freefall.

Well, this isn’t Boston or New York or Los Angeles, my friend. I still choose to believe there’s something quaint and Rockwellian about working in a little nook of the globe where wide-eyed kids garner more 72-point headlines than wife-beating, chemical-abusing big leaguers. So sue me.

Turcotte is the best high school running back I’ve seen in Maine, and that covers, um, too many years as a fan and reporter.

Since you can bet that two out of three Fitzy voters never saw Turcotte play, the safe conclusion is that he snagged the statuette on the strength of sheer statistics. Those digits were dynamite, whether generated on chewed-up turf or in a listen-up chemistry lecture.

What separated Turcotte from the pack in this and all seasons, however, was the truth behind the numbers. Let’s face it: Turcotte was responsible for every touchdown Lewiston scored the last two years. Either he was scoring six points as a runner, receiver, option passer, kick returnee or interceptor, or he was putting the fear of God into the defense and allowing some other kid to score scot-free by the element of surprise.

All of which he addresses with not-so-surprising modesty. “Without my teammates,” he said Sunday night, “I am nothing.”

That covers his exploits on the field. As for the classroom, c’mon, every athlete’s transcript requires some reading between the lines. Over the years, I’ve met many Super Jocks who lived down to the saddest stereotype, becoming a “straight-A student” via classes in Advanced Velcro Fastening while demonstrating the common sense of a banana slug. Some of them couldn’t spell “duh” if you spotted them the two consonants.

Turcotte tracked down his high honors upon the road less traveled. Every element of his carefully constructed life – his choice to take advanced courses, his choice of a part-time job at a funeral home, his choice of friends, his choice to work out like a maniac and shave seconds off his 40-yard dash time, and his impending choice of what prestigious college or university to attend – has been the thoughtful act of a teenager acting like a grown-up.

Heck, most grown-ups don’t act like grown-ups anymore.

He will star at the next level, and he will shine in life. But understand that Jared Turcotte doesn’t need to play another down of organized football to prove a blessed thing. He was a great high school football player. He’s even greater at things that actually matter. He lived his childhood the right way, and consequently he will enjoy countless benefits on the remainder of his journey.

“I wouldn’t have wanted to play football for any other school in Maine but Lewiston High School,” he said.

He isn’t the only one thankful for that luck of the geographical draw.

Congratulations, Jared. The pleasure was all ours. Even if didn’t surprise us. Or Spencer.

Kalle Oakes is a staff writer. His e-mail is koakes@sunjournal.com.

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