Craig Collins, shown in 2015, spent many years as an assistant coach at Mt. Blue. He has been hired as head coach at Dirigo, which is switching to eight-man football for the upcoming season. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal file photo Buy this Photo

Craig Collins’ first coaching job after 21 years at Mt. Blue was as an assistant coach to Jim Hersom at Dirigo in 2016.

“It reminded me a lot of Mt. Blue,” Collins said of his one-year stint in Dixfield. “I like the kids over there. They’re hard workers. They came to practice and busted their butts.”

Dirigo made such an impression on Collins that he decided to apply for the school’s vacant position following Hersom’s resignation after the season, even though Dirigo is moving from 11-man to eight-man football next fall.

Collins spent most of his 21 years at Mt. Blue as defensive coordinator under head coach Gary Parlin. The Cougars reached the Class A state championship in 2005, losing to Bonny Eagle, and won the Class B state title against Marshwood in 2012.

When Parlin retired from coaching in 2013, Collins, who also coached varsity baseball at the school, stayed on for two more years with Parlin’s successor, Jim Aylward. After a season at Dirigo, he then served as an assistant at Spruce Mountain, where he is the athletic director at the middle school, for two years before taking last year off from coaching.

Collins isn’t as familiar with eight-man football as he is with Dirigo, but he was researching it even before the Maine Principals’ Association implemented it last year. Two years ago, he saw New York state’s version of it at Syracuse University’s Carrier Dome while visiting his son Isaac, who is stationed at nearby Fort Drum. Last fall, he watched a handful of eight-man games around the state.

While the high-scoring nature of eight-man football goes against his defensive background, Collins said he looks forward to the challenge of coaching in a wide-open game.

“You’ve got to be very disciplined (on defense),” he said, “and you’ve got to be good tacklers.”

Dirigo canceled its varsity season one week into the 2019 11-man season due to safety concerns brought on by low numbers. Despite having anywhere from 13 to 18 players at a time due to injuries and ineligibility, the Cougars continued to play a JV schedule under Hersom for the remainder of the season.

Because it canceled its varsity season during the season, the school initially lost its varsity eligibility for two years, but the MPA granted a waiver for a return to varsity football last January.

Despite the uncertainty, Dirigo had a large pool of candidates for the job, athletic director Jess McGreevy said.

“We had a lot of great candidates and a lot of interest in the program,” McGreevy said. “We’re excited to have Craig and think he’ll be a great addition to our program and Dirigo athletics.”

Collins said he met with the team as well as the eighth-graders who expect to join the program next fall and came away encouraged with the enthusiasm for eight-man football. He estimated he has 14 current underclassmen and another 10 incoming freshmen planning on playing.

“I think the kids are excited,” he said. “We’re just waiting to see where we’re going to be put (in the MPA’s new eight-man format).”

The MPA is expecting as many as 26 schools to play next fall, more than double the 10 that played in its inaugural season. It has already voted to divide eight-man into two classes, with separate state championships for large and small schools. Dirigo, with an enrollment of 219, was tentatively placed in the small-school division in January, but the MPA isn’t expected to finalize the alignment until later this month.

EMERSON RESIGNS AT POLAND

For the second time in as many years, Spencer Emerson has stepped down as varsity football coach at Poland.

Emerson resigned to become an assistant football coach at Bates College, where he served as an assistant coach for one season prior to becoming Poland’s head coach in 2018.

After his first season with the Knights, Emerson left to become an assistant coach at Independence Community College in Kansas in late 2018. But he left there a short time later due to what he termed a miscommunication about his role on the staff with then-head coach Jason Brown. Brown resigned in February 2019 and was later indicted on felony blackmail and identity theft charges.

Poland finished 1-8 in Class C South last year and lost to York in the regional quarterfinals.

Poland athletic director Don King said Emerson submitted his resignation in late January and that the school is currently in the process of interviewing candidates for the replacement.


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