LEWISTON — Eric Wagner's pregame talk sometimes emphasizes tradition and the legacy of those that played before.
The Lewiston native often inspires his Swarthmore College men's soccer team by reminding them of its roots and a responsibility they bear.
It is a lesson Wagner himself learned as a young soccer player from his coach, Paul Nadeau.
Nadeau was a larger-than life man. He believed in his community, its roots and lived and taught a dedication to it. When he talked, his players listened. And most still remember his words today.
"He'd remind us that the alumni were all paying attention and they all wanted us to win," said Wagner. "It was important for us to think it wasn't just about us. This is about everybody that played this game in Lewiston and wore that jersey. He had a way of making the alumni larger than life."
Nadeau died at his home in Florida last week after a long battle with cancer. He is being memorialized there this morning by friends and family. Meanwhile, it has left the sports community in Lewiston and Auburn mourning while many relive the impact Nadeau had on their lives and the legacy he has left behind.
"When (his daughter) called me and said her dad wasn't going to make it after about a year of battling, there was a ripple around the state from here to Millinocket that could be felt" said Mike McGraw, the long-time Lewiston boys' soccer coach, who replaced Nadeau back in 1982. " I really think we lost a legend."
Nadeau was a teacher, an administrator and even an official, but his most lasting legacy is as a coach. He started both varsity soccer programs at Lewiston and was the first boys' coach the program had. He won a state championship as the hockey coach at Lewiston. He also coached baseball, basketball and football.
"He could coach anybody," said his daugher Angela Stancil. "That was his pride. That was his thing. He knew he could teach anybody the game, and he did. No matter what you wanted to play, he could coach you, and he could get the best out of you."
He played soccer, baseball and basketball at the University of Maine at Farmington and was inducted into the college's Hall of Fame. He won state championships in baseball, football and hockey at Lewiston. Though his Blue Devils football team was recognized by the Auburn-Lewiston Sports Hall of Fame, Nadeau himself has never been inducted.
"He had an aura around him," said Jeff Guay, who played on the Lewiston hockey team as a freshman for Nadeau. "He was so tall. He demanded a lot, but he'd say things to get the most out of you. It wasn't in a negative way, but he told you, 'You've got to get going.'"
Nadeau was a towering figure over his young students. An excellent athlete and a demanding coach, he commanded respect and earned the appreciation of his players. He wouldn't demean them, but he'd challenge them.
"He was just the really cool guy," said Wagner. "He was quirky. He was unique, and he was the man. We were kids, and this guy was such a big man. He was like the BMOC (Big Man On Campus)."
He was known for his wit and his one-liners. He was funny and he was serious. Sometimes at the same time. Players respected him. They wanted to play well for him, and they didn't want to make him angry.
"The guy had some of the most memorable sayings and ways of saying things," said Wagner, whose been coaching at Swarthmore for 10 years. "We all respected him and wanted him to think well of us. So we played for him, and we played hard for him."
Nadeau, who became the head basketball coach at Stearns right out of college, was was an assistant football coach at Lewiston under Mike Haley when he inquired about starting a soccer program. The Blue Devils program began in 1974 and the team went 11-0 in its first season.
"If you were growing up in Lewiston and playing soccer, that was not the coolest thing to do," said Wagner. "He made it cool. There were cheerleaders and people who weren't on the team that knew some of his sayings. He was just like the coolest guy around."
Nadeau coached the boys' team for seven years and had an 80-22-10 record with a collection of players that were just learning the sport. He went 6-7 in the playoffs and reached the Western A finals twice.
"Whether I was on the JV, freshmen or the varsity, we all knew we were playing for Nads," said Wagner, who was called up to varsity to play for Nadeau during his junior year. "Even though Mike (McGraw) was the JV coach and he worked with us every single day, we were all playing for Nads. There was no question who was in charge of the whole program. He set the tone for everybody, for all the levels and all the players."
McGraw enjoyed coaching with Nadeau so much that when Nadeau stepped down after the 1981 season, McGraw wasn't sure if he'd continue coaching.
"Being around him was a huge influence," said McGraw. "He showed me so many more things than just the game of soccer. There was the strategy, the psychology and the motivation. It was a tremendous thing to see. To watch him work with the kids. He was just like them. He was as much a kid as they were. So he knew them intimately and knew what made them tick."
Lewiston's varsity program wasn't the only one he helped develop. One morning, Dave Morin and McGraw were at Nadeau's home. Morin was looking to start the soccer program at Edward Little and Nadeau provided advice. Nadeau also started the girls' soccer program at Lewiston and created the Lewiston-Auburn Youth Soccer Program, which still thrives today. His motivation for starting the youth soccer was for his two daughters, Angela and Anna. Both went on to stellar soccer careers in high school and college.
"I always believed that I never had a better coach then my father," said Stancil, who says her crowning achievement was earning a soccer scholarship to Saint Anselm to reward her father for all he did for her. "I could have played for him forever."
As a hockey coach, he gave a young Guay an opportunity. As a freshman, Guay was given a roster spot on the varsity for a team that went on to win the state title.
"Back then, there weren't too many freshmen that made varsity," said Guay, who went on to a successful pro stint and professional coaching career, including the Lewiston Maineiacs. "So for him to pick me, it was quite an honor. He gave me a lot of confidence and playing time against some more skilled and talented players."
There may be no better testament to his legacy than the number of former players that became coaches. In addition to Wagner, McGraw and Guay, former players like Ron Dumont, Jeff Ackerly, Tim Smith, Butch Dow and Marc Fortin, among many others, have carried on his coaching legacy.
"If you can't have fun, it's too much like a job," said McGraw. "He made the game fun for his players. It wasn't all candy and licorice and stuff like that. He'd get right after them. But if you did what he asked you to do, you'd end up having a lot of fun and enjoying the game."
Wagner saw the passion that Nadeau coached with. It gave him a freedom to show his own intensity, passion and excitement in his coaching.
"He brought an intensity and passion every single day," said Wagner. "He was never off. He was never down, and if he was down, we never knew it. So he'd bring an intensity to the training and in the way he spoke to us. It was very impressive and inspirational. You knew you had to show up with your game."
After settling in Florida, Nadeau returned to teaching and coaching at Ascencion Catholic School in Melbourne, Florida, where a scholarship fund has been established in his name.
Since his death, his former players have been sharing stories and enjoying the memories and lessons learned from a man none of them will forget.
"We're all really heartbroken to hear of Paul's passing," said Wagner. "Hopefully he's in a better place. I know he's been ill. I hope he's a lot more comfortable now. He was a big influence to a lot of people."