LEWISTON – Mike McGraw was trying to spread the fever Thursday.

He gathered his prospective soccer team together after school to discuss summer plans and various details. Most importantly, he wanted to fan the flames.

“For our kids, in a World Cup year, soccer interest should be really high,” said McGraw, the longtime boys’ soccer coach. “Enthusiasm should be high. With our African population, it is phenomenal.”

With the World Cup starting in full today, McGraw took advantage of the interest that is generated in the game. It is a chance for him to set the tone and develop the passion to play long before next season begins.

“To have that enthusiasm, that fever, that passion to play like the rest of the world has, I’d love my team to have that,” said McGraw. “Whether they do or not, I don’t know, but if they can find a little of that emotion and passion and play the game, it’s certainly going to make it a lot more enjoyable season.”

McGraw admits he’s excited about the upcoming tournament. Though he grew up playing football, he developed an interest in soccer in college. He’s been hooked ever since, yet he still doesn’t have the depth of passion that some of his students possess. He had over 50 kids attend his meeting Thursday, many of them with African roots and a whole other cultural connection to World Cup soccer.

“I can only imagine, if from the time you could barely walk, what that must feel like,” he said.

He hopes that fever can become contagious through the program in the coming months.

Expectations are already high for the Blue Devils next season with an abundance of talent coming into the program.

“We have more team drive and more unity this year,” said Mike Archibald, a junior defender. “That’s just the team chemistry.”

Though the World Cup hasn’t produced that, it will help maintain and develop that bond as teammates follow the tournament’s progress together.

“That’s totally likely,” said Archibald. “We might get together and find out who has the big screen and where we can go watch the games.”

Archibald didn’t really follow the World Cup four years ago. He’s developed more of an interest in the game this time around. He’s already planning on printing out the pairings and picking winners. Even though friends tout the favorites from Brazil, Archibald is thinking red, white and blue.

“I’m just going to stick with the home country,” he said. “I think they should do fairly good.”

Interest in the tournament extends beyond the soccer program at Lewiston. Brian Jones, a math teacher, was already making plans to catch the first 40 minutes of the opening game Friday while at school.

“I love the game,” said Jones, who was a soccer official for 15 years.

“I probably spend as much time watching the referees as much as I do the game.”

Jones already has had his satellite dish hooked up to give him constant coverage over the next month. As much as he loves to watch a good soccer game, he likes the idea of having another way to bond with students.

“It’s really kind of exciting here at Lewiston because the population is changing,” said Jones. “It is the world’s game. It’s good to see. I think it’s a way to bring us together here. It’s nice to have students that are excited. Teaching is all about making connections with kids, and it’s just one more connection.”

McGraw hopes World Cup excitement not only benefits his team next fall and this summer but also can bring excitement to his United Soccer Academy July 24 to the 28. In addition to Swarthmore College coach Eric Wagner and others, the soccer camp features a variety of talent from the Lewiston girls’ and boys’ programs. Hot on the heels of the World Cup, McGraw can see the camp featuring different themes each day and highlighting various countries.

“That’s going to make it a lot of fun for the kids that are going to be there,” said McGraw.

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