Jim Hersom took note of his twin brother John’s intensity and work ethic as early as pee-wee football.

Their father, Lawrence “Doc” Hersom, saw it, too. As proud as the legendary Edward Little football coach was of his boys’ competitiveness, he also wanted them to be kids. So one day, while driving home after one of their junior high basketball games, he gave John some unusual fatherly advice.

“Slow down, John,” Doc said. “You’re working too hard.”

To this day, John Hersom appreciates how his father kept athletics in perspective. But he always kept that drive alive.

On Sunday, Hersom will join his late father as a member of the Auburn-Lewiston Sports Hall of Fame, thanks in large part to a work ethic and passion for football that made him a star at Edward Little and the University of Maine.

As one might expect, the seeds of Hersom’s football passion were planted at a very young age, when the Hersoms, then living in Gardiner, would travel to Auburn to support Doc, who coached the Red Eddies for 16 years.

“I remember that whole atmosphere and how it appealed to me as a young kid and dreamt I would have an opportunity to be a part of that one day,” Hersom said.

John’s dream came true when the Hersoms moved to Auburn the summer before John and Jim’s sophomore year. Having been around their father and the team, the twins already knew some of the other students and teachers at their new school. But they had no expectation that being Doc’s son would pave a smooth path through the halls of Edward Little or to regular playing time at Walton Field.

John Hersom said he and his brother kept their heads down and set out to earn their keep. He credits seniors such as John Morin with helping them feel like part of the team.

“I was just trying to do as much as a I could to fit into the environment, to fit into the school culture. I was just trying to set my feet and contribute,” he said. “A lot of those seniors were very welcoming to me and my brother and made that transition as smooth as possible.”

“As with any other coach’s son,” Morin said, “and in this case, coach’s sons, I think you’re constantly trying to  prove you’re playing because you’re an athlete, you’re the best athlete at that position and you’re not there because of any nepotism thing. And John and Jim faced that.”

Being a coach’s son had its pros and cons, John Hersom said, but one thing that helped them make the transition to their new school was they were part of a very talented and driven sophomore class that quickly impressed the coaching staff and earned varsity playing time. In fact, it wasn’t long before they started supplanting the upperclassmen in the starting lineup.

The sophomores took football seriously, as well as any other sport they played (which for John included baseball and basketball until his senior year). Whatever sibling rivalry the twins had at Edward Little was quickly eclipsed by trying to keep up with their classmates, John said.

“We were very competitive. It was really our entire group,” he said. “I think we kind of fed off of each other. When you look back, you’re glad that you had those teammates that were always willing to push you and make you better.”

As sophomores Jim earned the starting quarterback job, while John started at linebacker. John suffered a knee injury about one-third of the way through the season, and wasn’t able to return until the season finale against rival Lewiston. 

Morin, who went on to play at the University of Maine and was chosen by John to introduce him at Sunday’s Hall of Fame banquet, knew the foundation of a great team was being set.

“For that nucleus, losing was not acceptable,” he said.

Doc Hersom knew that, too, but he didn’t dedicate his sons’ junior and senior years to molding them into the leaders of his great football machine, John said. 

“It wasn’t football 24/7,” he said. “We had some discussions, for sure, but it wasn’t about x’s and o’s. I really appreciated that as well, being a kid and not having it be about football all the time.”

He is quick to note that Doc’s coaching staff was just as influential as his father. Assistant coaches such as John and Don White and David Eretzian had a profound impact on all of EL’s players, including the Hersoms.

“They were people that we looked up to and didn’t want to disappoint,” he said. “If there was anything I cherish most about my time at Edward Little, it was the close relationships I had with those coaches.”

Turn the corner

For their junior year, John joined Jim in the backfield as a tailback. A true hybrid running back at 5-foot-11, 195 pounds, he could bowl over opponents for the tough yards, then break away in the open field.

“He was very physical but, to go with that, he had very deceiving speed,” Jim said. “He could turn the corner.”

Led by the Hersoms and a veteran line, the Red Eddies went undefeated (10-0) and beat Sanford, 14-8, for the 1976 Class A state title. 

All that championship did was make the Hersoms and their classmates hungry for more in 1977.

They knew they had a leg up on the competition with their talented skill position players, which also included fullback Rick Schrepper and end Bruce Lucas. But they lost over a dozen seniors and would be have to rebuild their offensive line, and they knew their rival across the river, Lewiston, would be tough to beat.

“We never really had big heads (from the 1976 title). We never perceived ourselves as being an elite group,” John said. “We were very hard-working. We had a very close team chemistry. We didn’t focus that much on what others said or what expectations they had for us.”

The mid-to-late 1970s marked perhaps the summit of the Battle of the Bridge, the Edward Little/Lewiston rivalry. Edward Little won the 1976 contest, 16-7, en route to the state title. But many experts favored the Blue Devils to win A North leading up to the 1977 season.

EL rode its talented backfield and a dominant defense to a 7-0-1 record into the 1977 rematch with the 8-0 Blue Devils at Walton Field. 

“Lewiston was probably our most challenging opponent in both of those (championship) years,” John Hersom said. “We had some hotly-contested games against Lewiston. And it was more than a rivalry that day.”

Vying for the A North title and a spot in the state championship, the Blue Devils jumped out to a 20-6 third-quarter  lead. But with the help of a ground game that accounted for 180 yards, the Red Eddies rallied for a dramatic 22-20 win in what many still consider the rivalry’s greatest game.

The Eddies had to pull off another comeback the following week against South Portland in the state game. Led by John Hersom’s 139 yards rushing, they churned up over 300 yards on the ground to defeat the Red Riots, 12-8, and made it back-to-back state championships.

Football observers from all over the state took note of John Hersom’s spectacular play. He joined Lewiston star lineman Gerry Raymond as the only players to be named to both the offense and defense on the Portland Press Herald’s all-state team in 1976 and 1977.

University of Maine coach Jack Bicknell took notice, too, and recruited John and Jim to Orono.

John knew he would have to start from square one to earn playing time with the Black Bears, which meant getting bigger and stronger. He was glad to have the guidance of Morin, who himself had cracked the Maine starting lineup as an undersized lineman.

“After seeing what he had done in high school, there was no doubt in my mind he would be able to raise his level of play so he could play college football,” said Morin, who went on to coach state championship football teams at Thornton Academy and Massabesic and is now an assistant principal at the latter.

“I was just happy to be doing something that I wanted to continue to do,” John said.

Hersom showed how happy he was by dedicating himself to the weight room. By spring football of his freshman year, he was the second strongest player on the team. By his sophomore year, he was on the travel squad and played on special teams.

As a junior, Hersom was up to 215 pounds, still small for an outside linebacker in the ECAC. But he was always one of the hardest hitters on the field, and by his senior year, he was regularly recognized as one of the top linebackers in the league.

“When you think about what he did in college at his size, it really speaks to his intensity,” said Jim Hersom, who went on to coach at Edward Little and several other schools and is now Dirigo’s football coach. “John was probably one of the most intense players I’ve ever been around. It’s kind of funny. He wasn’t a vocal guy. He was very quiet and unassuming. But he had to play with that kind of intensity just to survive at that position in the ECAC.”

“Having had a chance to reflect, he was my hero growing up,” Jim added. “He was everybody’s hero. Everyone wanted be be like John as an athlete.”

When his playing days ended at Maine, John Hersom knew he would follow in his father’s teaching and coaching footsteps. 

“I just really enjoyed being part of that atmosphere as a young kid and started to develop a mindset or dream that (coaching) was one way I could continue to be a part of it,” he said.

He started his career in 1982 at Morse, followed by a stint at Messalonskee. Having compiled over 150 career wins, he is now in his 12th year at Lawrence, which he led to the 2006 Class A state championship and three other title game appearances.

At Lawrence, he coached his sons, twins Mike and Tom and the youngest, Jack. All three have gone into coaching, too, carrying on the Hersom legacy. 

Like his own father, John Hersom tried to strike a balance between being a coach, father and husband. A lot has changed about coaching since he started. But his family, and his football family, are constants. 

“I don’t think I would ever be as happy doing this for 34 years if I weren’t blessed with my amazing wife (Roberta) and amazing kids,” he said. “They keep everything in perspective.”

“I love everything about football and I love going on with coaching. I know that I would miss it terribly,” he said. “That’s what keeps me going, is the closeness with the kids.”

Action from Friday night’s Lawrence at Lewiston football game.
Lawrence Head football coach John Hersom.


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