FARMINGTON — Zak Kendall has two great passions in life, football and music.
A mild-mannered, thoughtful Mt. Blue High School senior, Kendall knows he has been fortunate to have both of those loves nurtured by his family, school and community.
"This community, it's really big on football, but it's also huge in folk music and traditional music," he said. "I've loved growing up here. It's a great place for football and music."
He has shown his gratitude by excelling at both and sharing his considerable talents on the gridiron and the stage.
Right now, the football stage couldn't be much bigger for Kendall. The Mt. Blue captain will lead the unbeaten Cougars into their second consecutive Pine Tree Conference championship game Friday night against Waterville.
The memory of last year's double-overtime loss to Leavitt in the conference title game still fuels Kendall and the Cougars. They feel they are overdue for a trip to the state championship game.
"We've made it to this game two years in a row and it's time to make it to a state championship. We were too close last year," he said. "We should have made it last year, and this year, there's no higher note to end on than winning the state championship."
Hitting the high note in front of a huge Fitzpatrick Stadium crowd next Saturday would be a dream come true for Kendall, who is more accustomed to hitting the high notes in front of more intimate gatherings, such as his two-Saturdays-a-month gig at The Homestead Bakery in Farmington.
Inspired by his mother, Deb, Kendall took up the guitar as a nine-year-old. He and some friends formed a band, The Bricktown Bandits, when he was a freshman.
The band broke up when some of the members enrolled in college, but Kendall still plays weddings and parties, mostly as a solo act. With his Washburn guitar, he performs acoustic sets of folk and blues music. He also plays the harp, banjo and violin and performs with the Franklin County Fiddlers.
Mt. Blue coach Gary Parlin, a fellow guitar player, has watched Kendall perform at The Homestead Bakery and was impressed.
"He looks so comfortable up there playing and singing," he said.
Kendall has enjoyed his introduction to professional musicianship.
"It's nice. I usually make close to $100 a night," said Kendall, who counts Mason Jennings and Trampled by Turtles among his biggest musical influences. "Get a free meal, too."
At 6-foot-2, 265 pounds, Kendall appreciates an occasional free meal. Extremely athletic for his size, he is an outstanding blocker as a tight end and a dominant run-stopper as a defensive end.
Even though tight ends have been a rare commodity in Parlin's "Cougar Gun" offense, Kendall was Mt. Blue's top returning receiver this season. Both Kendall and Parlin expected him to be QB Jordan Whitney's primary target this season.
But as outside threats such as Cam Abbott and Nate Backus emerged, Kendall's role evolved into more of a blocker. His ability to downblock and control the corner opens up huge lanes for the Cougars' outside runners.
"We didn't want to split him out in the slot much because he's a devastating blocker," Parlin said.
Kendall hasn't had the ball taken completely out of his hands. He still catches the occasional pass and he's spent more time in the backfield lately, running for a 14-yard touchdown in the Cougars' regular season finale against Waterville. But he has embraced spending more time at the line of scrimmage this year.
"The biggest thing is taking pride in being a lineman, taking pride in those blocks," said Kendall, whose father, Austin, played fullback and defensive end for Mt. Blue in the early 1970s. "You're not the guy catching the ball. You're not the guy catching the touchdown. But if you're taking pride in every block, it makes the team that much better."
Kendall takes equal pride in stopping the run on defense. His job in last week's semifinal game was to contain elusive Gardiner QB Dennis Meehan, which was one of the keys to the Cougars' 33-21 win.
"He knew that was a big assignment. He probably has the best understanding of the game out of all of the guys that we have," Parlin said.
Kendall's understanding of his future is still evolving. He is exploring his college options with plans to pursue a career in music.
He initially figured this year would be his last pursuing his other great passion, but lately he's realized he wants to keep football in his life, too.
"Now that it's coming to a head, I don't think I can give it up. It's so much fun," he said.