Tommy Casey hugs assistant coach Chris Gray after Leavitt’s victory over York last weekend to advance to the state championship game Friday night in Orono. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Soon after the Leavitt Area High School football team’s Class C South championship win over York last week, junior Tommy Casey sought out assistant coach Chris Gray.

Amidst the celebration by friends, family and teammates of the Hornets’ earning a spot in this Friday’s Class C state title game, Casey and Gray embraced and remembered the late Pete Casey, Tommy’s father and Gray’s close friend. 

Tommy Casey, left, shares a moment with assistant coach Chris Gray after Leavitt’s victory over York last weekend to advance to the state championship game Friday night in Orono. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

“I like to think about my dad a lot,” Tommy Casey said, before a heavy pause, following last Friday’s win. “I think about how proud he would be and how proud he’d be of the team and everything.”

Gray is a teacher at Leavitt, so he sees Casey every day. Tommy also has played with Gray’s son, Ashton, for several years.

The postgame moment between the Casey and Gray was poignant.

“He just walked up to me and was pretty emotional,” Gray said. “He mentioned his father, and, of course, that made me pretty emotional.”

It’s been a little more than a year since Pete Casey died unexpectedly a day before Leavitt’s 2018 C South final against Fryeburg Academy. The Hornets’ coaches and players were shocked, but Tommy still decided to play. Leavitt lost, 20-13.

“It was a tough day, obviously, but one thing I’ll say is the kids did a pretty good job of staying on track,” Gray said. “Even Tommy. We saw him later that day and we said, ‘Hey, man, what are you thinking?’ And he said, ‘I’m playing. My dad would want me to play, so I’m playing.’ That was maybe six hours, four hours after (the death).

“Was it emotional? Yes. I think it was felt more after we lost that game, the locker room was a pretty solemn place and Tommy was obviously struggling.”

The loss of Pete Casey and the setback to Fryeburg brought the Hornets closer together, according to Tommy Casey. 

“It threw us off pretty hard, I think,” he said before practice Wednesday. “Everyone was in disbelief, almost — ‘Did this actually happen?’ Everyone was really sad because he was really close with the whole community and he worked really hard to help people and benefit all the players he could.

“It hurt us pretty hard, but it unified us a lot and I think we are more of a tight group, more of a brotherhood now. It brought us all together.”

Hornets head coach Mike Hathaway talked to his team in the offseason and the preseason about turning the difficult situation into something that they can grow from.

“There are chances for you to grow from the experience and learn how to handle things and have a little bit of perspective,” Hathaway said. “Just to use that to become a tougher person and know that if you can make it through a situation like that then there aren’t going to be situations that come up in the football field or in life that you can’t handle, especially if we handle it together.”

Now, the Hornets are headed to their first state final since 2014.

Tommy Casey of Leavitt Area High School wraps up Hayden Henriksen of York at the line of scrimmage during a September game in Turner. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

FOOTBALL FAMILIES

Many of Leavitt’s players have grown up playing football together, since early elementary school. Tommy was always on the teams his father coached with a lot of the other kids his age, now juniors at Leavitt. 

The Caseys lived near Gray, as well as assistant coach Marco Madison and his son, Zach, one of Leavitt’s juniors, and the families became inseparable. 

“We’d would go golfing, hang out with the Caseys at the pool, stuff like that,” Chris said of his friends, Pete and Marco. “The kids all hung out together and we just became the Three Musketeers. Our kids all grew up together and we were always together. Besides the people I grew up with, I’d say Pete and Marco were probably the closest friends I had, and still are.”

Football was a big part of that time together, as the dads coached and taught their sons. Tommy credits his high football IQ on defense to his father’s teachings. 

“A lot of things that have to do with linebacker, since he played linebacker in college,” Casey said. “He just has a lot of knowledge on defense. I was a defensive end all the way up until middle school, and transitioning to linebacker was pretty big for me. He helped me with my footwork, my reads and getting downhill and to the ball and having a nose for that — tenacity.”

Casey has played well this season for the Hornets, including Friday when he made solid blocks on two touchdown runs on his side of the offensive line and had a tackle for loss on defense. 

Hathaway likens Tommy’s demeanor this past year to that of Pete because of the way he faces each day. 

“With Tommy, you wouldn’t notice a difference if you see him day-to-day,” Hathaway said. “I know he has days that are more difficult than others, but that’s a kid that walks into school every day and he’s a good student, a good citizen in our community and he’s a great teammate.

“He’s a lot like his dad. He never has a bad thing to say about anybody and would do anything to help anybody out. He’s maintained that and will carry on his dad’s legacy that way.”

Friday’s Class C state title game against Maine Central Institute (6 p.m. in Orono) will be emotional for every player and coach on the field, but the Hornets will have a little extra on their minds.

“For the last seven years we’ve rode together to every Friday night game together, so it’s a big hole every time you get in the car and he’s not there,” Marco Madison said. “It’s tough.”

Leavitt’s Tommy Casey (58) celebrates as teammate Riley Parmenter, center, hoists the championship plaque after last week’s Class C South championship win over York. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

“He’s definitely with us,” Gray said. “We’ve got him all over the place. He’s plastered all over the weight room and locker room and we have stickers on the helmets. I know Marco and I have talked about days where we say, ‘I wonder what Pete’s doing?’ For me, it still really hasn’t sunk in.”

When the opening whistle is blown Friday night a little after 6 p.m., the Hornets say Pete Casey will be with them.

“It means a lot to me just because we have been so successful and that’s all he’s ever wanted,” Tommy Casey said. “He wanted me to be a state championship football player on a football team that’s on that level. We’ve been so close every year and he never got a chance to see it happen, so I know he’s up there looking down on us really impressed and really happy with the way we’re playing.”

“He would be so incredibly proud of his kid, and the thing about Pete was it wasn’t only his kids, it was all the kids,” Gray said. “I feel like there are things that have happened this year where I think he’s helped us out a little bit here and there. I’m not a huge believer in that stuff, but I don’t know, I think he is.”


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: