HEBRON – It’s a little like cramming for a big test, bringing dozens of football players from all over the state to a secluded private school campus and getting them ready for a football game by the end of the week.
Even in this quiet setting, the two-a-day practices in the late July heat take their toll on the players.
“It’s a lot harder than practices back home,” Mountain Valley defensive lineman Kyle Dow said.
Yet, the East and West All-Stars still have a good deal of free time during this week’s training camp at Hebron Academy for Friday night’s 18th Annual Maine Shrine Lobster Bowl Classic. There isn’t much of anything but trees and a post office within walking distance of campus, so the players are left to their own devices.
“Most of us just sleep during the time off,” Lewiston’s Jared Turcotte said. “(Bangor lineman Robert) Seccareccia brought some ‘Guitar Hero’, so we’ve been playing some of that.”
It isn’t just fun and games and sweet dreams, though. The players, the cheerleaders who are staying at Central Maine Community College, reported for training camp on Sunday and are devoting a week of their summer to a good cause. For them, this week is about enjoying one last week in a high school football atmosphere and raising money for the Shriners Children’s Hospital and the Shriners Burns Institutes.
“The first thing that everybody’s got to understand is why we’re here,” said West head coach Matt Perkins of Windham. “We’re not here because of football. We’re here to give back. I think we have a group of kids that understands that, and that’s what helps through the week.”
The Lobster Bowl has raised over $300,000 for Shriners hospitals, including $26,000 last year. Besides the proceeds collected from the game at Biddeford’s Waterhouse Field, participants are expected to raise money in their own communities.
“There’s not a person here who doesn’t believe in that cause,” said East head coach Mike Marston of Skowhegan. “My son (Max) played in it. He made some of his life-long friends in this game. It’s something you carry with you for life.”
The game has made some lasting memories on the field, and not just for the participants. The West dominated early and leads the series all time, 14-3, but two of the last three games have been decided by one point. The East squeaked out a 22-21 victory last year.
“Sometimes I think it’s like the All-Star game in baseball. When I was a kid, the National League won all the time. Now everybody’s talking about how the American League wins all the time,” Marston said. “From my experience, you usually have great players on both teams. It just comes down to the bounces of the ball.”
The two squads appear to be evenly-matched again. The East features a big-play backfield with Turcotte, the reigning Fitzpatrick Trophy winner, and speedy Justin Lindie of Winslow at tailback. The defense, led by three members of the vaunted Lawrence defense that dominated Class A last season, including Fitzy finalist Aaron Champagne, is quick and smart.
“It will be a good game, but we’ll be all right,” Turcotte said. “Our defense is unbelievable. They’re so fast. It just reminds me of the Lawrence defense. Every time you get the ball, they’re all around you already so you don’t even have time to react.”
“I look at their strengths. Their offensive line, we feel, is definitely strong,” Perkins said. “They have some great running backs. They have a lot of talented skill guys on offense. We’re going to have to be pretty stout up front.”
With nine players tipping the scales at 250 pounds or more, Perkins’ West squad should be stout up front.
“We’ve got a really strong line. We’ve got quickness in the defensive backfield,” said the 285-pound Dow, who will be playing for Liberty University in Virginia in the fall. “As of right now, I think our speed is a lot better.”
The West offense, led by another Fitzy finalist, QB Chris Treister of Portland and Deering’s Brian Sandora, will have plenty of big-play capability of its own.
Tickets are still available for the game. They are $10 for reserved, $7 for general admission and may be purchased at the gate, at Kora Temple on 11 Sabattus St. in Lewiston, or from any Shriner. Parking is limited inside Waterhouse Field, so you may want to arrive early. Gates open at 5:30 and the festivities begin at 5:45 p.m. with a pre-game concert by Jenny Paquette. The game kicks off at 7:30.