HEBRON — Even while they put the players through their paces during a week-long training camp, coaches and organizers of the Maine Shrine Lobster Bowl never let too much time pass without reminding them the real reason they are on the field.

Winthrop’s Kevin Hart is one player who doesn’t need a reminder. All he has to do is look at the pink bracelet on his left wrist.

Hart’s friend, Caitlin Bazinet, is one of the reasons the Lobster Bowl exists. The showcase of Maine’s top graduated high school football players (4 p.m., Saturday, Waterhouse Field in Biddeford) has raised over $300,000 in 20 years for children such as Bazinet, who was treated at the Shriners Burn Institute in Boston following a car accident last December.

After a brief return home, Bazinet checked into New England Rehabilitation Hospital in Portland to continue her recovery. Hart, whose bracelet reads “Life’s a dance” in tribute to his friend, saw Bazinet when she picked up her diploma at graduation ceremonies at Winthrop High School in June.

“I talked to her quite a bit before graduation day and during graduation and she’s doing good,” Hart said. “I’m proud of her. She’s really pushing forward to make sure she’s getting better.”

Hart doesn’t want to hit his teammates on the West squad over the head with Bazinet’s story. But if they ask him about the bracelet, he’s always ready to tell them about what a wonderful dancer she is.

“There are a bunch of people around here that know what it’s like to have a friend get into a car crash, unfortunately,” he said. “I’m here to go out and have fun, help the team as much as I can with my ability, and hopefully bring home a win and help the Shriners.”

Indeed, the serious cause hasn’t kept Hart from pulling some hi-jinks with his new teammates. He and Jake Cyr of Lisbon pulled a prank on his Winthrop teammate, Jake Steele, at lunch one day, pouring an overly-generous portion of salt on his chicken.

“It’s been a great time so far. All the guys are great. I’ve made a bunch of new friends,” he said.

The outgoing Hart hasn’t always been so quick to make new friends. As a young boy, he was bullied and teased by other children because he suffers from alopecia areata, a disease where he produces too many white blood cells, causing them to attack hair follicles. That caused him to start losing his hair at age 11.

He started shaving his head and his family moved from Colorado to Winthrop. Needless to say, he stood out among his peers and earned him some notoriety, as he put it, as “the tall, bald kid from Winthrop.”

“It was a hard road for about three or four years, but then I started playing football and doing sports and I got a lot of respect for it,” said the 6-foot-3 Hart, who also played basketball for the Ramblers. “I kind of took all (the teasing) and put it towards my football playing. Every time that I put that helmet on, I just think of all of those times and it gets me upset and I just go out and kill everybody I can.”

Saturday will be the last time Hart puts his helmet on and turns into a serial killer. He will play defensive end and handle some kickoff duties for the West. 

As a senior, Hart earned all-Campbell Conference honors as the leading pass rusher on a dominant Winthrop defense that posted seven shutouts.

“I loved getting in there and blowing everything up,” Hart said. “I hope to continue doing it in this game.”  

“What he brought to our defense is really incomparable to any past defenses that I had as a coach,” said Winthrop coach Joel Stoneton, an assistant coach for the West. “He’s a speed rusher. You can’t throw over him. You can’t run at him because he’s too quick. He beats you over the top and he’s in your backfield.”

Hart got into the backfield a lot (11 sacks) for the Ramblers, who went to the state title game before losing to John Bapst.

“To me, this season probably meant the most of any season,” said Hart, who will attend the University of Maine at Augusta to study business development and play basketball. “It was kind of a heart-breaker (the way the season ended), but it’s also nice to know I left on a good note. We brought Winthrop back to where it belongs, being the first team to make it to states since 2000.”

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