PORTLAND — When Jack Mallis was born, his grandfather snuck a stuffed football into the labor room and placed it next to his head.

When Mallis was three years old, Mallis’ family moved from Portland to Windham. On moving day, his grandfather called his mother.

“Rhonda,” Mike Haley asked his daughter. “you know there’s no football in Windham, and you’re moving there, right?”

Windham did eventually get football, and Mallis, the best player to ever play for Windham High School in its 11-year history, became the 39th recipient of the James J. Fitzpatrick Award as the best senior football player in the state Sunday.

Mallis topped fellow finalists Dirigo’s Nic Crutchfield and Bangor’s Lonnie Hackett and seven other semifinalists in balloting among the state’s media and football coaches. He is the first Fitzy winner in the school’s history, but he comes from a family steeped in football tradition. Haley, of Auburn, starred at the University of Maine before becoming a high school coach, where his many stops have included Oxford Hills, Leavitt and, last season, Oak Hill as an assistant coach. Mallis learned to love football as a youngster from watching the Green Bay Packers with his father, Michael, who now lives in Hong Kong.

“I’ve come from a football family,” said Mallis, who is undecided on where he will attend college. 

Mallis’ football playing career started as a third-grader playing in a fourth-grade league. While he dabbled in other sports such as baseball, basketball and track, football was his focus, in part because he had his grandfather to help him learn the game.

“My grandfather has really done everything for me he can with football,” he added. “He always made it possible for me to ask him any question about the game of football. It’s nice to have someone in your life to help you when you have any problems or questions.”

“He’s always loved the game,” Haley said. “One of the things that I noticed early on was that he is really committed to the game.”

Haley said Mallis made great strides since his sophomore year, going from someone who didn’t really buy into coach Matt Perkins’ program to someone who exemplified it and raised the level of his teammates’ commitment.

“He is the most complete football player that Windham has ever had,” Perkins said. “Granted, we’ve had football for 11 years, but he has set the tone for years to come.”

Mallis, a running back and safety, led the Eagles to an 11-1 record and their first Class A state title by rushing for 1,686 yards and 26 touchdowns and catching 15 passes for 309 yards. He was also the Eagles’ third-leading tackler, an edge-setter and “sure, violent tackler,” from the strong safety position, Perkins said.

Crutchfield, the Sun Journal’s Player of the Year and an all-Campbell Conference quarterback and safety, threw for more than 1,600 yards and 22 touchdowns and ran for 577 yards and 10 TDs while leading Dirigo to the Class C state title. He was 25-6 in three years as the Cougars’ starting QB, but he may have saved his best game for last, passing and running for 298 total yards and three touchdowns in the state game against Foxcroft Academy. 

“It’s been exciting,” Crutchfield said after the announcement. “I’ve met a lot of good guys. I got to talk to Jack and Lonnie a lot. They’re real good guys. All of us said that we were winners, no matter what.”

Crutchfield will attend Maine Maritime Academy in the fall.

Hackett, who is headed to Bowdoin, is Bangor’s career (3,818 yards) and single-season (2,227 yards) leading rusher. He led the Rams to the Pine Tree Conference championship before they lost to Windham in the state title game.

“I was his coach for three years,” said Bangor coach Mark Hackett, Lonnie’s cousin. “I was extremely hard on him. But the only thing I ever had to tell Lonnie was tuck in your shirt.”

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