The Lisbon native had completed his high school and college careers and was finishing up at Maine Maritime Academy. He was ready to move on in life and playing football likely wasn’t part of his future.

“I really wasn’t counting on playing,” said Kates. “I knew there were a couple of (semi-professional) teams out there, but I wasn’t really thinking about playing. I was thinking I was done.”

Then Kates heard about an upstart team called the Maine Sabers. They were having a tryout in the Portland area, and Kates’ curiosity and love of the game got the best of him. He attended the combine with close to 70 other players.

“Once you get that itch, it’s hard not to play,” said Kates. “Once I put the pads back on, it was all over for me. There was no way I wasn’t going to play.”

Kates has been part of the Maine Sabers for three years now and is part of a team enjoying their greatest success. The Sabers are undefeated at 4-0 and were ranked 19th in the American Football News Today poll of AAA semi-pro football teams.

The Sabers look to keep that streak going at the Manning Bowl in Lynn, Mass. today. This is the team’s first year in the New England Football League after playing in the Eastern Football League.


“We had a lot of guys coming back,” said Travis Barnies, a former Edward Little standout. “So I expected us to do a little better especially changing leagues. It’s almost a fresh start for us even though we’d been around for two years. It was an opportunity to put our names on the map. We definitely thought we had something to prove.”

The Sabers practice once a week and play their homes games at Thornton Academy, Waterhouse Field in Biddeford and Scarborough High School. The team features a number of players with local ties. Quarterback Jeremy Shorey is also from Lisbon. Wesley Myers, Matt Morgan and Scott Daigle are from Lewiston. Garrett Wyman is another Auburn native while Ryan Hawes (Farmington), Mark Coyne (Dixfield) and Matt Obie (Gray-New Gloucester) are also from the area.

Like Kates, Barnies was finishing college and unsure of his football future. In his final year at Husson University, he learned about the Sabers.

“I definitely wanted to keep playing football,” said Barnies. “So I joined up. I hadn’t stopped playing football since I began. I know if I’d had a break it would have been tougher to get back into it. Going from college right to the Sabers made it a nice transition.”

The Sabers also provide coaches a chance to stay in the game. Among the coaching staff is Winthrop’s Chris Kempton, who is also a defensive coordinator at Bates College. Lewiston’s Justin Bisson is the team’s defensive line coach.

“This is my way to stay involved in the game,” said Bisson, who coaches at the youth level and has coached a number of middle school teams. “I can’t play now. I’m 34 years old. I’ve got bad knees and I’ve got a bad shoulder. It gives me a chance to stay involved in the locker room.”


The coaching staff and the roster feature a number of former University of Maine players and coaches. The college experience that is prevalent with many of the players allows the game to remain at a relatively high level.

“There hasn’t been much difference,” said Barnies. “We play a lot of college guys and guys that played in high school. It’s basically the same, if not a little faster than college.”

The players are still hungry to play the game and are still competitive.

“You never lose that,” said Bisson. “Once you’re an athlete, you never lose it. It’s just kind of goes away until you find an outlet for it. This is an outlet. It’s fun. We’ve got a special team.”

It also allows those like Bisson and Kates to expand their knowledge of the game. Bisson was interested in coaching with Kempton and the Sabers because he wanted to learn from Kempton. It’s a little different coaching young kids and then coaching adult males, but football is still football, especially when focusing on the fundamentals.

“I’ve got to ramp it up as a coach,” said Bisson. “Even though it’s a higher level of football, it gets to be the same. You’re just talking to the guys in a different wave length then you are with kids.”


Kates has coached middle school football at Lisbon the previous two years and will be an assistant with the high school team this fall.

“It was tough for me to run out there and coach and stuff and watch other people play the game,” said Kates. “This helps me in that regard. I’m also learning stuff from our coaching staff that I can apply to my kids that I’m coaching.”

The Sabers expected to have a good season. They had lost some talent last year after a number of players decided they couldn’t continue playing. The team had much of the squad returning and managed to bolster the roster even more.

“We knew if everything came together and everybody’s head was on straight, that we had a chance to do well,” said Bisson. “I don’t think anybody thought we’d come in and move the ball on offense like we have so far. We knew our defense was good. That’s what’s carried us the last three years. This year we stepped it up and we’re one of the top defenses in the league.”

With optimism coming into the season and the 4-0 start, the Sabers are continuing to think big.

“We’ve been meeting those expectations,” said Kates. “Anytime you start out the year with a couple of wins, our goal was to win the championship. We’re not there just to show up. With our start, our expectations grew even more.”

The team plays on the road the next two weeks and don’t play another home game until September 8 when they play the Southern Maine Raging Bulls at Thornton Academy.

“It’s always fun to play with a bunch of guys who enjoy playing the game,” said Barnies, “but when we’re winning, it just makes it all that much better.”

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