Jim Hood played football for the University of Maine from 1974-77.

LEWISTON — William “Jim” Hood Jr. was always ready to compete, at the first invitation, really.

Hood learned he had to be prepared for whatever opportunities came his way growing up in a Shank Street neighborhood that brought out the competitor in a number of notable Lewiston athletes.

“The Giroux family moved in and all of a sudden we were playing up in their yard, for years,” Hood said. “We all played.  Gender didn’t matter. If you wanted to play, you played.”

Hood’s friend and former neighbor, Mike Giroux, will be honored posthumously with the Earl Austin Award on Sunday night, just before Hood is inducted into the Auburn/Lewiston Hall of Fame.

He’d inherited his athleticism from both of his parents, mother Jeanne, who was a cheerleader, and father William Sr., a standout at Lewiston who went on to pitch briefly in the Dodgers’ organization.

What he learned playing anything and everything on Shank Street, usually with kids a year or two or three older than him, was to never turn down an opportunity, make the most of it when he got it, and never give up until he got another chance.

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It served him well throughout his life, leading to a decorated career in high school and college football, and later to coaching stints at three rival schools, Lewiston, Edward Little and Oxford Hills.

Played for name and school

Hood was cut from 7th grade basketball tryouts, worked on his game, and returned the following year a different player.

“Next year, I went out for the team and the coach says “Where were you last year? I don’t remember you going out for the team?'” Hood said. “I said ‘I did, and you cut me.’ He didn’t believe me. I was very adamant he’d cut me.” 

It wasn’t the last time a coach let Hood get away. But he notes he was fortunate enough to have coaches who gave him prominent roles in football, basketball and baseball as an underclassman.

As a Lewiston sophomore, he lasted one series as a backup running back on the football team before coach Tom Thornton sent him in with the starters, many of whom he had played tag football with on Shank St.

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Hood rushed for 114 yards against Edward Little and never left the starting lineup again, except for injury.

“I played for my name — I didn’t want to disappoint my parents, or may family — and I played for my school,” he said. 

Thornton moved Hood all around the backfield in Lewiston’s smashmouth attack. As a junior, he and the Blue Devils ruined what would have otherwise been an unbeaten season for eventual state champion EL, beating them 14-0 in the traditional preseason game and again, 28-16, in the season finale. Hood terrorized the Red Eddies in the second game, rushing for 137 yards and collecting two interceptions.

“We were a different team when we played them. Everyone was serious. The wheels were all going the same way,” Hood said.

The Eddies figured out how to contain Hood enough to beat the Devils twice his senior year. Not many other teams did, though, as Hood led the team in yards and touchdowns and was named all-state.

Colby had Hood in its sights, and vice versa, to play football as he began his final season playing basketball for Fern Masse.

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Knee trouble

Hood outstanding quickness, strength and leaping ability made him one of Masse’s fiercest inside players. The emergence of 6-foot-8 center Bruce Samakalis allowed Masse to move Hood outside.

“We really had something there with him able to guard a two or a three,” Masse said. “But it didn’t last that long.”

Five games into the season, Hood injured his right knee, landing awkwardly while coming down with a high pass, just before halftime against Rumford on the brand new high school gym floor. After testing it out at halftime, he returned to the game and helped the Blue Devils force overtime.

In the team huddle, Hood’s basketball career ended before the overtime started.

“My leg, by then, had blown up. I couldn’t even get up,” Hood said. “I’d played on a medial meniscus that was gone, an old injury which I guess I’d gotten from football.”

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The injury didn’t require surgery, a doctor told him, but the leg was immobilized for a month. Hood was back at practice before the end of the regular season and Masse figured his team could still do some damage in the tournament with Hood back to join Smakalis, Barry Ripley and Mike Madden.

But during a practice the day before he was expecting to receive final medical clearance, he re-injured the knee. Doctors discovered a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and performed surgery that ended his basketball as the Blue Devils finished 9-9 and lost in the first round of the tournament without him. It also cost the baseball team its starting third baseman. 

“He would have had an outstanding basketball career if he could have played his whole senior year,” Masse said. “He was one of the best three-sport athletes when I coached.”

Hood’s athletic and college future suddenly didn’t seem as bright after the injury, though. Colby wanted him to go to a year of prep school, which for Hood, who already had two siblings in school, was not an option.

Hood tried but failed to get a scholarship to play for New Hampshire before the University of Maine surprised him with an offer to play for Walter Abbott. 

“I was very shocked because they knew I had an injury,” he said. “They asked me up for early spring ball, which shocked me. I was operated on in March and I was on the field for football in August.”

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Never thought twice

Hood had already beaten the odds after doctors told him he wouldn’t be able to play college football. Instead, he was playing linebacker for the Black Bears JV, wearing the prototypical balky knee brace of the 1970s.

Injuries quickly piled up in Maine’s backfield, and Abbott needed someone who had played fullback. He turned to Hood.

“By the third game, I was playing fullback,” Hood said.

He never missed a game in four years at Maine. Hood’s unconventional but tough running style and blocking ability quickly entrenched him in the backfield, which included quarterback Jack Cosgrove, who went on to coach the Black Bears and is now at Colby.

He made almost an instant splash at Maine, earning ECAC Player of the Week honors as a freshman when he ran for revenge and 119 yards in a win over New Hampshire.

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“I wanted to go to New Hampshire but I couldn’t get a scholarship,” he said. “We played them the fifth game of the season or something like that. I remember Coach Abbott before the game said ‘They didn’t want you Hood,'” Hood said. “He turned to Gerry Tautkus, a lineman who was from New Hampshire, and said, ‘Gerry, they didn’t want you, either, and you’re a New Hampshire boy.”

“All of a sudden, we’re running guard traps, and Gerry’s the lead guy,” he added.

Hood helped the Black Bears to a Yankee Conference title that year and a 6-5 record under Jack Bicknell as a junior.

Hood shed his brace for his senior year, and while the Black Bears finished a disappointing 3-7, Hood could say he had ultimately proved Colby, UNH and his doctor wrong.

“I played football in college. I played racquetball. I played basketball. I played every sport you could think of playing and never thought twice about it,” Hood said.

Giving back

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Still an active golfer (13-handicap), bowler and just plain competitor, Hood  retired last year after 28 years as a K-6 physical education teacher in the Lewiston school system. He now works for himself, painting houses.

He was a decade removed from football until a fellow golfer at Martindale Country Club, new Edward Little football coach Kevin Callagy, convinced him after a year’s worth of cajoling to join his staff.

Hood’s first gig coaching running back and linebackers for Callagy and Gene Keene lasted four years. He coached one year at Bates before a coaching change there made him a free agent again. 

New Lewiston coach Darren Hartley “told me it was time to come home,” Hood said, and named Hood his defensive coordinator, a role he would continue to serve for Bill County when he took over in 2000. Hood’s fast and fierce defenses helped the Blue Devils reach the Pine Tree Conference final, which they lost in overtime to EL in 2002 and enjoy several other playoff appearances.

“Coaching, for me, was giving back,” Hood said. “I loved seeing some of these kids when they were in sixth grade as a teacher and then seeing them again in high school as a coach and watching them grow into adults.”

Hood’s niece, Val Brown, asked him to join her girls basketball coaching staff at Oxford Hills, which he did for four years, then followed her to her alma mater, Edward Little, for four more.

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The Red Eddies lost back-to-back regional finals before Brown stepped down to coach at Bowdoin. 

Hood’s alma mater asked him to replace Paul Cote, who was recovering from a heart attack. After getting Cote’s blessing, Hood joined Lewiston on an impressive streak of 11 consecutive tournament appearances. Expectations were mild, but a talented team of upstarts led by Amanda Bryant, Tracy Bradley Meagan Lever, Kelsey Varney Katie L. Morin and Katie M. Morin had other plans.

Featuring a tenacious fullcourt defense and a blue-collar work ethic, they improved from 7-11 to 13-5

“We’re No. 6 or something like that heading into the tournament,” Hood said. “We upset Westbrook and then we upset Deering. The first year in, we’re playing McAuley again.”

Catherine McAuley had the perfect antidote to Lewiston’s press, however, in point guard Sarah Marshall and held off the Devils, 64-53.

The Devils dominated in their first season in their new conference, the KVAC, in 2003, going 15-3. They were the third seed but had to face No. 6 Bangor in the Bangor Auditorium and lost, 48-46.

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While coaching the Devils, Hood heard whispers about his hard-nosed coaching style being more suited for boys. It is still a bit of a sensitive subject, more than a decade after he stopped coaching at Lewiston.

“I coach athletes. I coach basketball players. I don’t coach girls or boys. It’s just this is what you’ve got to do to get yourself better,” Hood said. 

With some of the nucleus still around, the Devils managed to go 11-7 and reach the quarterfinals.

The nucleus was gone the following year, and after four years at the helm, Hood stepped down with a 43-19 head coaching record.

Hood has barely flirted with returning to coaching. If he never coaches again, he has plenty to be grateful for, particularly the relationships he established on both sides of the river.

“I’m still good friends with all of them. And that doesn’t go away. That’s the most important thing,” he said. “Look at what I’ve been able to  do. I’ve coached at Auburn, I’ve coached at Bates, I’ve coached in Lewiston. I coached with my niece. I’ve been very, very fortunate to have these experiences. I really was.”

Jim Hood tucks the ball before getting hit while playing for the University of Maine.Jim Hood runs the ball down the field during a game for Lewiston High School.Jim Hood lays in a layup while playing for Lewiston.

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