AUGUSTA — Cony’s Riley Geyer threw a touchdown pass on a post route to Dylan Coombs, then ran upfield and celebrated with a body bump with the Lawrence quarterback like it was a regular-season game.

It wasn’t, of course. It was just another rep at the Maine Elite Passing Camp. But in the summer of the coronavirus pandemic, any chance to put on helmets and throw and catch footballs is cause for excitement.

“A bunch of these guys here just love the game of football, and they want to be out here,” Geyer said. “I bet they all appreciate this. When we heard that we might not have a season, and then when they heard we were doing this, I bet everyone was jumping out of their shoes and was ready for it.”

Between two and three dozen players were at Alumni Field by Cony High School on Thursday for a mid-day session on the last day of the Maine Elite Passing Camp. The annual four-day camp draws quarterbacks, receivers and defensive backs from throughout the state to participate in individual and team drills, and while most of the players had attended the clinic before, the chance to do it this year in the midst of sports closings and shutdowns and speculation on the shaky status of football this fall made it more meaningful.

Linemen run through drills during the Maine Elite Passing Camp on Wednesday at Cony High School in Augusta. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

“We’ve been trying to get as much practice as we can in at Cape, but it’s just not the same as getting out to these camps and playing against other competition,” Cape Elizabeth senior receiver/defensive back Will Thornton said, who was in his third year of attending the camp. “The first year I came to this camp, I fell in love with the sport of football. They really teach you how to play football.”

There was no guarantee that it would be held this year, and lead instructors Mike Hathaway of Leavitt, B.L. Lippert of Cony and Kevin Cooper of Bonny Eagle feared the worst when the sports landscape was put on hold when the coronavirus reached pandemic status in March.

“When we got to the end of June, we talked on the phone … and we weren’t very optimistic,” Hathaway said. “We were really a couple of days from canceling altogether. And we thought, well, let’s push it back from the July 5 date it was supposed to be, and maybe the numbers will come around in our favor.”

Lippert said the key was the third phase in Gov. Janet Mills’ reopening plan, which increased the limit on gatherings to 50 people and made the camp feasible.

Players leap for the football during the Maine Elite Passing Camp on Wednesday at Cony High School in Augusta. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

“End of May, early June, we were planning on canceling it. Then we heard a lot of AAU and travel softball and all these things were going on,” Lippert said. “I think you could tell by the energy and the enthusiasm the kids had, they’ve been pent up, waiting for something to do. The kids have been great. The effort has been tremendous.”

The chance to play again was enticing. So too was the chance to go back to coaching.

“The players were obviously excited, but I’m not sure anyone’s more excited than the coaches,” Lippert said. “We kind of live for stuff like this. And to have this week, we’ve all been looking around like ‘Hey, we’re coaching football.’ We weren’t sure we’d get one day of it, let alone four.”

“It’s huge,” Hathaway said. “Really, what we want to do is be with kids, give them instruction and see them get better.”

The camp had to look different this year, however. Medical professionals screened anyone coming in, checking for symptoms and taking temperatures. Three trainers were on the field. And the camp, normally held in five- to six-hour sessions, was split into three two-hour chunks, allowing it to get under the 50-person-per-gathering threshold.

Trainer Rick Thompson, left, screens Ryan Langlois for COVID-19 symptoms as he enters the Maine Elite Passing Camp on Wednesday at Cony High School in Augusta. Staff photo by Andy Molloy

That meant the camp had to be cut down to essential on-field drills, while off-field activities like an inside film session with Cooper had to be scrapped. For returning players, the cuts were tough.

“I love watching film,” said Geyer, a senior who finished his second year at the camp. “Now it’s just the individual quarterback drill, wide receiver drill, then right into 1-on-1s and 7-on-7. I like doing all that stuff, but I love watching film as well.”

The positive side, Hathaway said, was that with fewer players on the field, there was less standing around and waiting for a turn.

“The number of reps they’re getting is probably working out to be about the same,” he said. “When you have 82 kids and you’re doing all that at once, there’s not as many reps, even if you’re out there longer.”

The result was still an intensive experience for the participating players.

“We’re just glad to get out, and get work in,” Lawrence senior receiver/defensive back Zach Nickerson said. “It was a lot of fun. It was good, catching balls from the other quarterbacks from other schools.”

It remains to be seen whether they’ll be able to apply the week’s lessons this fall. Players, however, didn’t let that become a distraction.

“I kind of don’t want to think about that,” Geyer said. “When I hear ‘football’ and ‘football camp,’ I’m thinking football. My mind’s just straight football. … Even if it’s a shortened season, football is football. And I want to play.”

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