TURNER — Three years ago, the idea of Gabe Seeley, Isaiah Calder and Taylor Woodbury starting their senior-year football home opener at Leavitt Area High School would have evoked laughter and are-you-kidding-me looks.

Seeley had a physical ailment and a consequent crisis of confidence. Calder, while taking snaps as freshman quarterback, was studying the depth chart above him, not enjoying the view and planning to quit the game. Woodbury? He played soccer.

Funny how undefeated seasons and state titles make the air around Libby Field contagious.

“I would go to the games every Friday night, and I almost wanted to cry,” Calder said. “I wanted to be out there so bad.”

The three seniors are proving that you can be late to the party without missing all the fun. All three started and were on the field throughout an epic, 35-34, overtime loss to Cape Elizabeth — Seeley at split end and cornerback, Calder at corner and slot receiver, and Woodbury at defensive end.

Seeley caught two touchdown passes in what was essentially his high school gridiron debut.

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“I played all the way up from flag football through freshman year. Then I broke my collar bone,” Seeley said. “That kind of ruined my lifting and stuff, and I figured I wouldn’t be able to bounce back.”

They’ll be back, alright: In the lineup again when Leavitt hosts Yarmouth in another crucial Campbell Conference contest at 7 p.m. Friday.

Changing minds, hearts

Calder and Seeley continued playing basketball during their sophomore and junior years.

Mike Hathaway coaches both sports at the school. There wasn’t much of a football sales pitch. Not many are needed at Leavitt, which is coming off its second state championship in five years.

“There’s not a lot of going after them,” Hathaway said. “With basketball, I see them in the winter and all summer. So we may have some conversations about it, but until they get out there and start doing it, it really doesn’t go any further than that.”

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Woodbury made the transition from soccer to football as a sophomore, but there was anything but a promise of playing time.

His most significant varsity experience prior to this summer was an emergency appearance in the 2013 Class C championship game against Winslow, after starting defensive ends Conor O’Malley and Mitchel Davis went down with injuries.

“He was a sophomore, so he had enough time to learn the game,” Hathaway said. “But really it took him two full seasons to get to the point where he could contribute.”

Woodbury recovered a fumble in the loss to Cape Elizabeth.

“It’s tough. It’s basically starting fresh, learning everything new, total opposite,” Woodbury said. “It’s definitely different. I love it so much more than soccer, being able to hit people. It’s a lot more fun.”

Calder quarterbacked a Tripp Middle School team that reached the eighth-grade championship.

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He took the snaps again as a freshman. But when Tyler Chicoine was named the starter before the 2012 season, Calder chose to walk away for a year.

“I always loved basketball and football, but football is probably my favorite even though I’m a little better at basketball,” Calder said. “I felt like everyone was talking me up, and I felt like I should have gotten more time at quarterback on varsity and stuff. Instead of just sticking with it and waiting for my time, I thought I should have started right out, so I took it the wrong way and I stopped playing.”

Back to football

After a change of heart, Calder intended to play as a junior.

He hurt his leg, however, and those plans were put on hold. Calder stayed on the other side of the fence, where he and Seeley shared the mixed emotions of watching the Hornets hoist a Gold Ball.

“It’s all my friends. I missed it,” Seeley said. “Going Friday nights and not being out there. I love the sport. I wish I hadn’t stopped.”

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His upper body strength fully restored, Seeley worked out in the weight room six days a week all summer, in addition to playing summer basketball.

Their circuitous route notwithstanding, the seniors’ physical and emotional maturity are a welcome fit for the Hornets, who graduated 19 players from the team that ripped through Winslow, 47-18, in the state final.

“All throughout town, people were telling us, ‘They’re going to need you out on the field this year,'” Calder said.

“We’re lucky this year, with not a huge senior class, to get a couple of those guys back out. They probably knew that, too,” Hathaway added. “It’s good when you get guys who have played before. Otherwise it may take you more time than you have to be able to do it. Both (Seeley and Calder) were out with us in the summer doing 7-on-7. They both came to our summer camp. They had kind of a mini-season besides the preseason to get ready and get familiar with things.”

Woodbury’s experience last November was a good example of how quickly things can change. It also underscored the importance of depth, even for a program as rich with numbers and recent tradition as Leavitt.

Seeley was projected to start on offense, Calder on defense. Preseason injuries to projected starters Billy Bedard and Christian Callahan had the reinforcements on the field both ways with few breaks in the opener.

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“I figured I’d be in every other play or not even that much, and now we’re starting,” Seeley said.

And living the dream — or at least avoiding the nightmare of being able-bodied spectators.

“To be able to play football, you’ve got to enjoy hitting, and that was always one of my favorite things,” Calder said. “I caught a couple passes last game. Gabe had a breakout game. T-Wood had a good game at D-end, so for sure we’re all happy that we’re back.”

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