Learn signature plays. Break them down into simple components. Move the chains. Rinse. Repeat.

“We ran four plays today,” Gray-New Gloucester coach Mark Renna said after his team’s August scrimmage against Gorham. “That’s all we can get in the first week. Even those four plays weren’t polished. But if you run the right four plays, you score.”

That’s something the Patriots admittedly couldn’t accomplish in abundance last fall. Gray-New Gloucester chalked up 11 touchdowns in Renna’s first season at the helm. Opponents reached the end zone 53 times.

Gray-New Gloucester was part of Maine’s high school football boom in the 1990s and 2000s. Some of those upstart or revived programs, such as Bonny Eagle, Cape Elizabeth, Yarmouth and Dirigo, have won or consistently challenged for state titles.

Others, like the Patriots, have discovered that starting a program and growing and maintaining a tradition are two vastly different things. In the case of Gray-New Gloucester, there have been no winning seasons to excite and hook younger athletes, and no coaches who stayed more than a year or two to build continuity.

There are signs that the trend may be changing. Twelve seniors have made it to the end of their journey this year. They speak highly of Renna, and their goal is to leave behind the legacy of multiple wins and a Class C South playoff bid.


“I feel as though the seniors now have been more together than the groups ahead of us, so we have more team chemistry than in years past,” fullback Austin Chase said.

“We’ve been together since seventh grade, all of us, even before that,” Connor Deschenes, one of five returning starters on the offensive line, noted.

Several other converging factors should make the Patriots more competitive in 2015.

For starters, there is no defending Class C South champion, with Leavitt ascending to Class B. And the second and third-best teams in the league, Wells and Spruce Mountain, both sustained huge graduation losses at the skill positions.

When looking through the schedule and mentally checking off potential wins, if coaches and players indeed engage in such behavior, the Patriots no longer encounter names of schools that cause them to cringe.

“It should be a more competitive schedule for us than in years past,” tailback Zack Haskell said. “There’s no team I can think of that we can’t compete with.”


Gray-New Gloucester seniors admit there were times that the Patriots were mentally defeated before they took the field the past three seasons.

“Like last year with Spruce Mountain and Leavitt, we were always scared of them,” Chase said. “We’ve played all these teams that we’re playing this year before, many times. There are always the normal nerves before a game, but once you into it, you get some momentum and they go away.”

While the roster is still at a less-than-desirable total of 26, Gray-New Gloucester’s shortage of wins hasn’t dissuaded new players from coming out to join the program.

Four of this year’s athletes have never played the game at the varsity level, including senior quarterback Justice Bowie, who last appeared on the gridiron in eighth grade.

“We’re trying to rebuild the culture here,” Renna said. “Trying to make culture, because we haven’t really had it. We’re trying to get over the hump.”

Gray-New Gloucester strives to build its identity as a running team. Haskell led the team in rushing yardage a year ago.


“The front line is the big focal point of this team,” defensive end Jake Zeisler said. “Obviously we’re going to be a big ground-and-pound team this year. That’s what we’re going to live and die on is the run.”

Zeisler added that the goal, “as it is every year,” is the playoffs.

It sounds lofty for a program that has been eager to taste one win — any win. But when nearly half the team is made up of seniors, there’s a now-or-never intensity in which you can believe.

“We’re very experienced,” Renna said. “Unfortunately it’s not all good experience, because we haven’t had much success.”

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