Maybe the grass isn’t always greener. But there’s something about a different shade of red that appealed to Shawn Austin.

Four years as head coach of the upstart Greely High School football team produced 20 wins, playoff appearances and respectability for a new program. Still, Austin felt a certain wanderlust every time he heard about a coaching vacancy with a similarly new program two towns away.

Gray-New Gloucester had a feeder system and a rabid booster club that would make some Class A coaches envious. Their relative lack of success on the varsity gridiron did nothing to slow their progress, while Greely struggled to shake its reputation as a school where soccer, basketball, baseball and track and field reign.

“We didn’t even have a locker room facility. We were dealing with a situation where students were getting dressed in the parking lot,” Austin said. “Then if somebody would see them, ultimately it would fall back on me. There are enough issues on the field with football. You don’t need to be dealing with outside stuff.”

Also, while Greely lacked an on-campus practice facility, G-NG’s sprawling fields offer practice and game gridirons adjacent to the school. And after consecutive one-win seasons, the Patriots offered any coach a chance to put his stamp on a system with nowhere to go but up. 

Those factors together persuaded Austin to make the leap and become the Patriots’ third different coach in four years. While it’s been a tough road for Austin’s seniors, future classes probably can count on this boss staying for a while.

“Things were going fairly well where I was, but the timing was right,” Austin said. “They’re starting to get great numbers here right down through fourth grade. It’s exciting.”

On paper, Austin’s debut seems to give the senior-laden Patriots a chance at victory, or at least avoid the indignity of last year’s opening 68-8 loss to eventual Class B champion Mountain Valley. G-NG travels to Fryeburg on Saturday.

“They’ve been good for a year or two,” Austin said of Fryeburg. “I expect them to be one of the teams fighting it out for that fourth playoff spot.”

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It’s probably not good news for the rest of Western Class B that Mountain Valley coach Jim Aylward isn’t making too many wise cracks about starting over.

Most schools would take years to overcome the loss of Justin Staires and Matt Laubauskas in one summer. But this is Mountain Valley, with its 61-man roster, its pattern of regional and state titles and its never-changing coaching staff.

“Our first scrimmage, we got down inside the 10-yard line and it dawned on me. I turned around and said, ‘Do we have anybody who’s been in the end zone before?’ We lost a lot of touchdowns to graduation,” Aylward said.

The only coach Mountain Valley has ever known doesn’t sound panicked. Gritty seniors Matt Duka and Brady Fergola and junior breakaway threat Tyler Mason join experienced quarterback Cam Kaubris in the backfield. The Falcons’ tri-captains all are senior linemen: Ryan Laubauskas, Cole Clark and Nick Taylor.

And we haven’t even talked about the defense.

“They might carry us a for a while,” Aylward said. “You might not see us winning games 47-6 this year. Maybe 20-6 or 26-6.”

Sounds like the same bottom line for Campbell Conference rivals.

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Crossover, non-conference games are a crapshoot in any level of football. Think Oklahoma-Ohio State or Patriots-Giants. Tasty, right? Now consider Florida-Wofford or Raiders-Rams. Pass the Pepto.

It’s the same hodgepodge this weekend in Western Class C, where the addition of four teams has created a need for two divisions and two inter-divisional contests per club.

On the delectable end of the spectrum are Saturday’s Lisbon at Oak Hill and Livermore Falls at Boothbay head-knockers. Less appealing are a couple of head-scratchers: Jay at Sacopee Valley on Friday; Freeport visiting Dirigo on Saturday.

With the notable exception of the Lisbon-Oak Hill neighborhood tailgate party, travel time didn’t appear to be a factor in the solution to the far-flung league’s scheduling quandary.

“We were told to put down three choices for our crossover games and were promised one,” said Dirigo coach Doug Gilbert. “We requested Lisbon, Old Orchard Beach and Boothbay, and we got OOB.”

Winthrop-Lisbon and OOB-Dirigo highlight the second round of crossover fare.

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