Bangor goalie Austin Conway blocks a shot by Lewiston’s Bilal Hersi during a September 2019 boys soccer match against Bangor at Lewiston High School. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Ninety minutes of soccer a day is never enough for Bilal Hersi. 

The Lewiston High School boys soccer standout did come off the field at times during his senior season last fall, but it was more to talk strategy and mentally regroup than because he needed a breather. 

New Lewiston head coach Dan Gish, who replaced longtime program leader Mike McGraw this offseason and who was one of Hersi’s assistant coaches during his four-year high school career, said he’s known Hersi to train for up to four hours in a day.

Hersi’s dedication produced results that make him the Sun Journal’s 2019-20 Boys Athlete of the Year.

“He’s put the work in,” Gish said. “Just seeing him as a little, skinny freshman, and then just develop and start to weight train and then constantly put hours upon hours with his brother (assistant coach Abdijabar Hersi) and his dad (Lewiston Middle School coach Abdullahi Abdi). The kid is special.” 

“You don’t get to that point without putting the work in,” Gish added. “You know, and he did.” 

“I think what really makes him special is that he has a desire to excel,” McGraw said. 

Hersi plays soccer year-round, something he said he believes has helped his career, which will make its next stop at NCAA Division-I Siena College in New York. 

Gish said the next four years will be an adjustment for Hersi. There will also be an adjustment for Gish, who spent the past four years on the sideline watching Hersi grow into one of the best players in the state. A two-time Gatorade State Player of the Year, in fact, as well as the Sun Journal All-Region Boys Soccer Player of the Year for the second consecutive season.

Bilal Hersi, second from right, and his fellow Lewiston High School seniors Suab Nur, left, Moubarek Abdourahman and Abdilahi Abdi celebrate with the Class A North championship trophy after beating Brunswick 3-1 in Bath in November. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Hersi’s latest award-winning season featured 32 goals and 12 assists, capped off by both of the Blue Devils’ goals in a Class A state championship loss to Falmouth — Lewiston’s third consecutive appearance in the state final. 

“People ask me about that game, and I can say, for myself, that I gave everything I had in myself. I’m proud of myself, and honestly, even though it didn’t go our way, I can say that I gave everything to that game,” Hersi, who helped Lewiston win state titles in 2017 and 2018, said. “And I’m just proud of myself in how I ended my career and how basically I just showed everything, why I am who I am, in a positive way.” 

One of Hersi’s most important traits during his senior year was an improved leadership, which a rebuilt Blue Devils roster needed. 

“We needed the leadership. To get back to the (state championship) game is a compliment in itself,” Gish said. “We had such young guys, inexperienced.” 

“He wanted to be a leader,” McGraw said, noting that Hersi showed increased leadership from the start of the 2019-20 season. “He wanted to do all those intangibles that come with being a great player.” 

Gish said that Hersi kept his calm during a rough start and first half to the state final, and he was the spark plug in the second half as the Blue Devils tried to rally. 

Lewiston’s Bilal Hersi and Messalonskee’s Tucker Charles race to control the ball during a Class A North boys soccer semifinal in Lewiston in November. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Gish said he still doesn’t know how Hersi did what he managed to score his second goal in that game — the final goal of his high school career. 

“I still don’t know how he pulled off that volley and a shot of that quality with — he didn’t have much of an angle,” Gish said. “But he wasn’t giving up.” 

“The biggest thing for me was growing into the leader and a player that my teammates can look up to, and a player that my teammates can come to because I’ve had about three or four years of experience (in high school), and I’ve had experience more than that, where I’ve played around the world and I’ve played around the country,” Hersi said. “So, overall, just being someone that people can talk to, and building my skill set and training and all of that. All that came together and I feel like this year especially that’s what led to having a really good campaign.” 

Hersi also said he fortified his mental toughness — something McGraw said was Hersi’s biggest improvement his senior season — which came from dealing with the frustration of being man-marked or double-teamed often during his junior year, and even sometimes during his sophomore season. He learned to use that added attention as a way to create space for his teammates, or to frustrate the opposition. 

“We played Mt. Blue and this one kid that was marking him — there was actually a couple kids marking him — and the kid said to him at halftime, ‘Man, you got to stop running around everywhere,'” Gish said. “He was just tiring him out. And Bilal knew what they were doing, they were double-marking him, and he’s like, ‘All right.’ His game intelligence was so high.” 

That allowed Hersi to be, as Gish put it, “Like having another coach on the field.” Hersi said having the trust of the coaching staff to offer suggestions based on what he saw on the field motivated him to play as hard as he could. 

“The thing with Bilal, you could make those adjustments and he could implement them on the field quite easily,” McGraw said. 

It all comes down to Hersi’s commitment and passion for the game. McGraw said he especially saw that work ethic take hold during last offseason “where he really took it to the next level.” 

All that training paid off in the moments when the Blue Devils needed him the most, and Hersi seemed to always deliver, including the game-winning goal on a direct kick in overtime of a regional semifinal victory, as well as the unsuccessful rally in the state final. 

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