LEWISTON —  When Ali Hersi arrived late for practice recently, the first thing he did was apologize to his coach.

“He said that as a leader he knows he has to be here on time,” said Lewiston coach Mike McGraw. “He understands that if you come out and tell the truth and be a man about it things will be a lot easier. He’s not that little 15 year old any more. He’s old enough to understand and he’s taking on a lot of responsibility.”

It is Hersi’s second year as captain of his Blue Devils squad and it is a job he takes  seriously. Being a senior, Hersi’s game has matured greatly over the last three seasons. As much as he wants to talk the talk as a team leader, he knows he had to lead by example and walk the walk as well.

“I felt real bad,” said Hersi of his late arrival. “I was like, ‘Coach, I’m really sorry.’ When you’re late and you’re the captain of the team people are saying, ‘Why is the captain late?’ You’re supposed to be the first one here. You have a big job when you’re a captain.”

Hersi has been working toward this role since his skills made him a player to watch as a freshman. He’s only gotten better and this fall could be his best season yet. He’s part of a senior-laden group of Blue Devils that should make Lewiston a team to watch this year.

“This year is a big year for him because he’s going to get looked at if he isn’t already being looked at,” said McGraw. “He controls his own destiny as to where he wants to go and what he wants to do.”

Hersi arrived in Lewiston as an eighth-grader after growing up in Atlanta. He wasn’t able to play soccer his eighth grade season but he trained and worked hard in preparation for his high school career.

“It was so much different down in Atlanta,” he said. “It was more competitive because it was such a bigger city. It was so much different.”

When he got to high school, the speed and style of the game was different from the game he had played since he was four or five. But he caught McGraw’s attention quick enough.

“He was very good for a freshman,” said McGraw. “It wasn’t too long after we started our season that he was in the mix as a midfielder. He was a very skilled player as a freshman.”

His knowledge of the game has grown greatly since and his skills have improved as well. He earned all-state recognition last year as Lewiston went 9-2-3 and were the fourth seed in Eastern A before losing in overtime to Erskine in a quarterfinal.

Between improved skills, confidence and training, Hersi says he’s playing better than ever this year.

“There’s a big difference between this year and last year,” said Hersi, who’d like to take his game as far as possible after high school but is still weighing various options. “I have so much more confidence. I feel like I can do a lot now. Last year, I still had confidence but not as much as this year.”

With Hersi joining fellow seniors like Jon McDonough, Joe Sullivan and Curtis Robinson, McGraw has a strong group of senior leaders to rely on.

“Between Jon, Ali, Joe and Curtis, they are other coaches on the field,” said McGraw. “Joe’s a spiritual leader. Curtis is a physical presence. He expresses himself by showing them how to physically play the game with intensity and desire. Jon is another leader on the field by telling players to pick up their game. Ali has great awareness on the tactical end of the game. I’m able to do things a little different because I have a good core of seniors.”

Hersi says he’d love to win a state championship and that any individual goals he achieves would pale in comparison this season. He says with the group Lewiston has, reaching the tournament and making something happen when it counts is certainly possible.

“If you have a good hard-working team and you’ve got some skills, if you mix it all together good things can happen,” he said.

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