Nick Ferrence usually plays football for Lisbon during the fall, but with the fall tackle football season called off, Ferrence will play for the Saint Dominic Academy golf team this fall. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Some area football players have traded in their helmets and pads for drivers, irons, wedges and putters this fall.

With fall tackle football put on the sideline for the 2020-21 season by the Maine Principals’ Association and Gov. Janet Mills’ administration due to concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic, a handful of football players have decided to try their hobby at a more competitive level by playing golf, one of four sports — along with soccer, field hockey and cross country — to be given the green light to play regional schedules.

“It’s tough, football was canceled, which kind of sucks,” Lisbon junior Nick Ferrence, who is playing for the St. Dom’s golf team as part of a co-op between the two schools. “We worked hard in the preseason, we all kind of knew (the football cancellation) was coming. I have been practicing golf all quarantine, because that’s all I had to do. I have been working hard at golf. I am glad I had a backup plan.”

Ferrence was hoping to win the starting quarterback job this season with the Greyhounds.

This summer wasn’t Ferrence’s introduction to golf. He had been playing the past few years with his friend and fellow Lisbon student Neil LaRochelle, who has been a member of the St. Dom’s golf team the past three seasons.

St. Dom’s golf coach Chris Whitney said that when he was in high school at Bangor, he did the opposite of Ferrence, switching from golf to football for his senior year. Whitney said is glad that athletes from other sports have a chance to compete in a sport they enjoy.

“My big thing, it’s kind of an opportunity this fall, especially a kid like Nick … he plays golf all summer, he plays golf around his football schedule,” Whitney said. “It’s not like he’s going in and venturing into something different because football got (canceled). At least (golf) is there for him.”

Oak Hill’s Tiger Hopkins (11) homes in on a ball-carrier during a football game last September in Rumford. Hopkins is one of a handful of football players who are playing golf this fall after the fall football season was called off. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

The Lisbon football team’s rival, Oak Hill, also has recruited a football player to the golf team, Tiger Hopkins.

Yes, Hopkins is named after Tiger Woods, and instead of suiting up at running back and outside linebacker for the Raiders this fall, he’ll compete in a sport he grew up playing. Hopkins’ father, Chad, is the owner of Apple Valley Golf Course in Lewiston.

“I come from a family that way back that we play golf,” Hopkins said. “So, I have stepped right in and have had some fun. It’s not like I am trying to be the best golfer in the state or anything like that. It’s just something active I can do to be with my teammates.”

Hopkins, a junior, stopped playing golf when he was around 9 or 10 years old and started focusing on team sports. Like Ferrence, Hopkins hit the course a lot this summer.

Of course, it helps that his father is also a teaching professional and also coaches at the high school level.

“He’s the coach over at Gardiner, and my whole life I would go, ‘Hey, Dad, I need help with my driver,’ or, ‘I need help with the putter,’ stuff like that. Before practice (last Wednesday) I was struggling with my driver the day before. He gave me tips and we talked about playing it farther back in your stance and stuff like that.”

Hopkins, with his golf background, is a welcome addition to a growing Oak Hill program.

“His experience is going to help this team; he’s a junior, I will probably only have him for one year because his passion is football,” Oak Hill coach Tom Smith said. “I will use him to help teach the kids and stuff like that, so it’s like having another coach.”

Hopkins is disappointed he won’t face his dad’s team in competition as the Raiders aren’t scheduled to face Gardiner this season.

Ferrence’s prior golf experience has basically been just going out and playing. He hasn’t really practiced or worked on his swing before joing the St. Dom’s team.

“It’s fun hitting on the (driving) range; I have never really hit on the range,” Ferrence said. “So, I get to learn a lot on the range with the coaches. The coaches teach me a lot here.”

Ferrence and Hopkins say they will see how this golf season goes and what fall sports looks like next year before deciding if they will return to football or stick to golf.

The players both say they received support from their football coaches regarding the switch to golf.

“I talked to (Lisbon coach Chris Kates) before football even got canceled and I said, “If football gets canceled, I have an opportunity to play golf, and I would like to do that instead of sitting at home and maybe having a couple of practices of football with no pads,’” Ferrence said. “I was all in on golf — I was all in on football because it was my main thing, but when it got canceled, I just transitioned into golf.”

Hopkins said Oak Hill football coach Geoff Wright was all for players looking at other opportunities and the coach, knowing the football season might not happen, advised the players this summer t0 not miss a practice for another sport to come to football practice.

There’s also disappointment among the Oak Hill football players that they won’t be able honor former coach Stacen Doucette, who died unexpectedly in December on the field this fall, but feels the other sports teams will honor him by playing this fall.

“Obviously, losing coach was definitely tough, but I thought Coach Wright, the rest of the staff and all of our teammates, we were ready to dedicate the season to him and make him proud, but we have a chance to do that next year,” Hopkins said. “He will always be with the Oak Hill program, we (will) rename the field after him, but as soon as we can, we will try to represent him. I think that comes with every sport … he was a major factor in our community, that any sport we play is dedicated to him.”

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