Lewiston High School, with a proud tradition of eight prior state championships and enrollment numbers that dwarfed most programs in Maine, looked like the perfect location.

Then came consecutive two-win seasons, piggybacked by defeats in triplicate to begin the 1985 campaign. Young and driven, Capone, who originally assumed that LHS would be a brief blip on his gridiron resume before he departed of his own volition, suddenly wondered if he’d be run out of town.

“I felt I was ready. Then sometimes you put on that hat and things happen and you say, ‘Hmm, maybe not.’ But it was the right place, right time,” Capone said. “I had a great group of kids. The gene pool 15 or 16 years before that was pretty good. It’s all about having the kids, and they bought into what we were trying to do. In a couple of years we got it turned around.”

That, the Blue Devils and their boss did. Eight consecutive wins led to a berth in the state final that third-time’s-a-charm season. Two Novembers later, led by Fitzpatrick Trophy winner Brian Seguin, a bruising offensive line and a dynamite defense, Lewiston shut out Mt. Blue and won its first Gold Ball in nine years.

Lewiston knocked on the door during the Bill County era, but the Devils haven’t hoisted the heavy metal since that magical season. For restoring the Devils to consistent excellence during his 14-year run, then carving out an equally long and successful career as an assistant at Bates College, Capone, 61, will be welcomed Sunday into the Auburn-Lewiston Sports Hall of Fame. The annual banquet will be served at Ramada Inn in Lewiston.

Capone attributes any such lifetime achievement honors to the players and assistant coaches who wore the blue-and-white from 1983 to 1996.

“We had some of the best players in Maine at their positions: Brian Seguin, Troy Kyajohnian, Tony Colon, Charlie Duncan, Jason Versey,” Capone said. “Those guys were great players who bought into it, made themselves better, and I just tried to get out of the way and not screw ’em up.”

The Blue Devils were 73-63 in Capone’s tenure. Lewiston built the foundation of that success in 1985, when the coach’s first sophomore class had evolved into seniors and another waited in the wings, watching their older teammates’ every move.

There were additional speed bumps before Lewiston claimed the ultimate prize. Cheverus ended the rousing ’85 run with a 65-13 demolition in the Class A title game, the largest margin in history. Lewiston then slipped to 3-6 in 1986.

As is the case today, the Devils played a brutal schedule that included Bangor, then-mighty Biddeford, and the Greater Portland schools.

“If you look at the guys who were coaching, they forced me to become a better coach. You go from Gabby Price to Jack Flynn to Mike Landry to John Wolfgram,” Capone said. “If you weren’t on top of your game week in and week out, they were going to hang 50 (points) on you, and not out of disrespect but because they were that good and they would find a weakness. They forced me and my staff to keep our nose to the grindstone and be prepared. It was a lot of fun. It really was.”

Seguin, a 5-foot-7, 165-pound quarterback who preceded Capone into the hall, led the ’87 charge.

The state’s best football player went on to start four years as a middle infielder for Dr. John Winkin at the University of Maine. He also was an all-state basketball performer for another hall of famer, Fern Masse.

“He was like our Doug Flutie,” Capone said. “He had that air of confidence, but he was so humble, and kids just gravitated to him for whatever reason. When the ball was in Brian’s hands, something good was going to happen. He made huge plays for us his junior and senior year.”

Lewiston’s lone loss was to South Portland late in the regular season, but the Devils couldn’t be stopped in the playoffs. The Devils rolled through Portland, 29-6, and Biddeford, 35-7, to win the Western Maine crown.

It was the first year in a new classification arrangement that paired the champions of the Southern Maine Activities Association and the Pine Tree Conference in the Class A final. PTC survivor Mt. Blue proved a worthy challenger, but Lewiston locked down a 12-0 triumph before more than 3,000 spectators at Whittier Field on the campus of Bowdoin College in Brunswick.

Val Beaudet put Lewiston on top with a 1-yard plunge late in the first half. Seguin provided the punctuation with an 87-yard TD run on a draw play in the waning moments of the third quarter. He also picked off a pass to seal the shutout in the fourth. The Cougars never ventured beyond the Devils 27-yard line on the afternoon.

“One good decision I made was I went with the triple option, because the ball was in Brian’s hands making a decision every play. That’s what you do. You let great players play,” Capone said. “He was such a humble kid. Great player, great person. I won’t say it made it easy, but certainly things went well for us.”

Lewiston logged three more winning seasons from 1988 to 1990. They also were the top-ranked team in the 1994 regular season with a 7-1 mark.

“We had about a 10-year run when we were as good as anybody in the state,” Capone said. “When you talked about the best programs in Maine, we were in the conversation. I’m not saying we were the best, but we prided ourselves in trying to do it the right way.”

Capone stepped away at the end of the 1996 season, citing fatigue. He intended to spend at least one year off the sideline before evaluating his coaching options. In a matter of weeks, a call from head coach Rick Pardy of Bates, a mightily struggling NCAA Division III program at the time, changed his mind.

Later, Pardy was fired after a six-year stretch in which the Bobcats went 2-46. None of the assistant coaches were expected to be retained. In another right-place, right-time development, Capone was the exception.

“I had known Mark Harriman when he was at the University of Maine. He called and said, ‘I want to keep you on the staff,’ and I’ve been there ever since,” Capone said.

This past season was Capone’s 19th on the Bobcats’ staff and his first as a full-time employee at Bates after retiring from LHS. Capone contiunues to coach girls’ lacrosse at Lewiston.

His duties for the Bobcats include recruiting, coaching offense, and teaching some physical education classes. Bates has turned around its fortunes, winning multiple CBB titles and achieving a fistful of .500-or-better seasons after years in the NESCAC cellar.

“It’s a great place to be,” Capone said. “Everybody’s very supportive. Everybody in the athletic department is pulling in the same direction. People are just great to be around. You can’t help but have a smile on your face.”

Smiles all around. Not unlike being on the winning sideline at a high school championship game, or the guest of honor at a hall of fame induction.

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