HEBRON — The dad in Dave Sterling was like most other fathers playing football in his back yard with his young son. He was hoping he had a future quarterback or wide receiver to groom.

The football coach in Sterling quickly discovered that young Alex’s destiny was less glamorous, but just as rewarding.

“I could tell he was going to be a lineman,” Dave Sterling said. “He always had strong hands, good feet. He was very even-tempered and could execute whatever you needed him to do.”

Alex Sterling developed into a stalwart lineman for his father at Edward Little, a two-year starter who earned all-conference honors and was a nominee for the Frank Gaziano Award, which is given annually to the top linemen in the state.

Saturday, father and son will be together on the football field as coach and player for the last time, Dave as the head coach and Alex as a guard, for the East squad at the 24th Annual Maine Shrine Lobster Bowl Classic (4 p.m., Waterhouse Field in Biddeford). All of the net proceeds go to the Shriners Hospitals for Children.

Despite earning recognition among the top linemen in the state, Alex didn’t think he’d be standing alongside his father when Dave makes his Lobster Bowl head-coaching debut.

“I never expected I’d be in this game,” Alex said. “I always thought some of my other teammates would because a lot of them were really good athletes. But I got selected and I’m very honored to be here.”

His father is equally humbled to head the East team after acting as an assistant coach for two years. And it’s not just because the talent he is coaching this week is unprecedented in his six years as a head coach (three years each at EL and Scarborough).

“This crew has bonded really well right from the get-go,” Dave said. “They’re accepting their roles. Some guys have had to swap sides from defense to offense or the other way around, they’ve had to move once we’ve gotten a couple of practices in. They’ve all wanted to do whatever extra they could do. Everybody’s committed, so that makes it a lot of fun.”

Dave Sterling knows commitment when he sees it. He hasn’t had to look further than his own back yard.

“Alex was the kid you wouldn’t have to say anything to because guys could tell he was working harder than anybody,” Dave said. “He was a weight room junkie. You look at the combine results and he’s one of the top linemen in lifting. He has great lateral mobility because he worked at it day in and day out.”

Alex graduated in June but he continues to frequent the Edward Little weight room, and not just because he hopes to walk on at American International College in Springfield, Mass., in the fall.

“I know I’m not playing there anymore, but I just like to help out,” he said. “I want to keep pushing the younger guys to get better.”

For the Lobster Bowl, Alex is returning to his best position. It is where he played his freshman and junior year before moving to tackle as a senior to shore-up the Eddies’ edge blocking.

This week, the 5-foot-10, 240-pound Sterling is locking horns with some of the top linemen in the state. It’s a difficult assignment, one his father understands is made more so by the scrutiny and pressure of being the son of the all-star team’s head coach.

“I’m kind of a hard guy on him,” Dave said. “As a dad, I’m more of a dad first than a friend. When we got on a football field, he and my older son (David) always knew to call me ‘Coach.’ The way he’s performed this week has just made me more proud to have him as my son.”

“To see him finally get to this stage of his high school career is awe-inspiring as a father,” he added.

For the thousands in attendance, Alex won’t be the center of attention like the remarkable skill position players on both sides, but don’t minimize the impact he and his fellow linemen can have on the greatest showcase in Maine high school football.

“They can’t really do too much without us blocking for them,” Alex said.

In a way, Alex also sees himself blocking for the kids of the Shriners Hospitals for Children, whose stories he’s heard indirectly through is father’s past participation in the game and, this year, more directly through his own. He’s heard about the game’s real purpose more than most of the 90 players in the game.

Come Saturday, though, he’ll be focused on helping his father end the East’s two-game losing streak. Win or lose, it will take them both back to those days in their back yard.

“I just want to have fun,” Alex said. “That’s the whole reason I started playing football and it’s why I want to keep playing football.”


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