Maine Lobster Bowl West Team player Alex Gorham, from Dirigo High School, speaks about the game this Saturday during media day at Foxcroft Academy on Tuesday. (Morning Sentinel photo by David Leaming)

DOVER-FOXCROFT — Bill County is attending Maine Shrine Lobster Bowl training camp for the 15th time, so he knows what to look for on the 150 or so players’ second night spent preparing on the campus of Foxcroft Academy.

“(Monday) night, I noticed it wasn’t too long before lights went out,” said County, who is the head coach for the West.

Maine Lobster Bowl West Team player Kayle Stewart speaks about the game this Saturday during media day at Foxcroft Academy on Tuesday. Morning Sentinel photo by David Leaming

Many players got a restless night’s sleep in unfamiliar beds on Sunday night, then spent three Monday practices in the draining mid-summer heat. Then there’s the added stress of getting to know new teammates, some of them former rivals.

Cornerback Kayle Stewart from Spruce Mountain discovered on Monday he is spending the week surrounded by players from Mountain Valley and Winthrop/Monmouth in the West secondary. Knowing they will be under fire from an East offense that includes Fitzpatrick Trophy finalist Zach Elowitch of Portland and dynamic quarterbacks Leighton Girardin of Edward Little,  Skowhegan’s Marcus Christopher and Hermon’s Garrett Trask, Stewart and the secondary know they will have to put any old grudges aside to survive in a game where the winner has averaged more than 43 points over the last seven years.

 

“Coming in I didn’t really know any of them,” said Stewart, who is headed to Southern Maine Community College next fall, “but we’re starting to form a little clique and getting to know each other.”

The players get a crash course in bonding, what with three more practices per day over five days, plus a banquet and bus ride to Thornton Academy on Saturday for the 30th Annual Maine Shrine Lobster Bowl Classic.

Gates open 1 p.m., with kickoff at 4 p.m. General admission tickets are $10 and available at the game. One-hundred percent of the net proceeds from the game benefit the 22 Shriners Hospitals for Children in North America.

They got their first lesson on what the annual high school football all-star game is really all about during a spring “team meeting” held in Lewiston, where they heard 15-year-old singer Isabella Rose’s inspiring story about how the Shriners Hospital helped her overcome a cleft palate. They and the cheerleaders selected to participate then went back home to raise money for the Shriners and children like Rose.

“We’re all doing it for a great cause, fundraising all of the money and everything. I’m happy to be doing it for the kids,” Stewart said. “When that girl came out singing and everything, it was quite inspiring.”

“It’s an honor to be here,” said East free safety Parker LaFrance of Oxford Hills. “A lot of people think that it’s just a football game, but it’s more than that. It’s really about those kids that we’re all raising money for. The game is just a bonus.”

The game’s perennial slogan, “Strong legs run so that weak legs may walk,” has helped inspire the participants to raise over $120,000 this year.

“The kids have done such a good job raising money,” said County, now a semi-retired assistant coach at Leavitt who served as head coach of the East when he was at Lewiston. “They’ve really bought into the whole charity aspect of this. I think they really feel that piece that we’re playing for kids who can’t do what we’re doing right now. That’s just a great part of this game.”

Maine Lobster Bowl West Team head coach Bill County speaks about the game this Saturday during media day at Foxcroft Academy on Tuesday. Morning Sentinel photo by David Leaming

With their fundraising portion complete, the players’ next task is to grind through a week of practice. This week started hot and will just get hotter, if forecasts are correct, with temperatures potentially reaching the mid-90s on game day in Saco.

East head coach Dan O’Connell of John Bapst, his second time as head coach and 12th consecutive year on the staff, said the game’s veteran coaches and training staff know how to get the players ready for competing in the heat on Thornton’s turf field.

“You kind of have a blueprint on how to get the kids ready and get them acclimated, but also take care of their bodies and make sure that they’re healthy,” O’Connell said, “so that when we get to game day, which is a very long day, with a lot of ups and downs, they can be at their best to perform.”

Hopefully the heat doesn’t limit their ability to perform too much because there is some impressive talent on both sides. The West matches the East’s prolific backfield with plenty of big-play ability from Fitzpatrick Trophy-winning running back Tyler Bridge of Wells and quarterbacks Carter Edgerton of Biddeford and Tommy Springer of Marshwood.

“We have speed. We’re quick,” County said. “We probably don’t have the size that the East does, so there might be a little bit of a disadvantage there.”

LaFrance said the East was still in the beginning stages of figuring out how to curb the West’s big-play ability as of Tuesday.

“We’re not really worried about them. We’re just worrying about ourselves right now and focusing on the things we need to do as a team,” LaFrance said. “On the first day nobody really knew each other because there wasn’t a lot of talk. People are trying to get to know each other’s names. We’re starting to communicate more on the field and becoming more of a family.”

Families can become predictable but the game isn’t, even though it is trending towards favoring the offense. The West leads the all-time series, 19-10, but the East is 6-4 in the last 10.

The last time O’Connell was the East head coach, in 2009, his team rallied to a thrilling 17-16 win on a tipped eight-yard touchdown pass from Edward Little’s Cody Goddard to Sean Daigle with 36 seconds left, lasting proof that a defensive standoff can produce an exciting game on Saturday.

“Really, it’s going to come down to who’s going to make plays on Saturday,” O’Connell said. “There are great athletes and great people on both sides of the ball. Ten years ago when I was the head coach, it was who had the ball last. Thankfully, it was us.”

“No matter what happens Saturday,” he added, “the best part is, because of what they’ve already done before they got here, we’ve all won.”

Maine Lobster Bowl quarterbacks strike a pose during media day at Foxcroft Academy on Tuesday. East Team players Leighton Girardin, left, and Marcus Christopher square off against West Team players Tom Spring and Carter Edgerton. Morning Sentinel photo by David Leaming

filed under: