Madison’s Kaleb Nichols tackles Oak Hill’s Gavin Rawstron during a Class D South quarterfinal game in Wales last November. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Football teams in Oxford County are back to playing the waiting game while the surrounding counties proceed cautiously with 7-on-7 practices and prepare to see someone in different school colors across the line of scrimmage.

Dirigo head coach Craig Collins was hoping to maintain momentum from a promising summer start to his first year with the Cougars. The school was close to finalizing a schedule that consisted of a handful of games when the state Department of Education changed Oxford County from green to yellow due to its COVID-19 positivity rate last Friday, putting an immediate halt to practices until at least this Friday, when the state reevaluates that designation.

“It’s like everything else; everything is up in the air,” Collins said.

Collins said he and other Dirigo coaches were planning to meet with an administrator Monday night for an update on where things stood with athletics. The hope is a return to green for the county, a resumption of practices and the completion of the schedule, which would be limited to schools from Oxford and Androscoggin counties.

In the meantime, Collins is keeping players updated via texts, emails and a team app.

“We want to continue if we can,” he said.

Mountain Valley, Oxford Hills and Telstar are likewise in holding patterns until Oxford County gets the green light.

Lewiston continued its routine Monday knowing that it could be disrupted soon. The state said Friday that it will be closely monitoring cases in Androscoggin County, which remains green.

“These kids have been unbelievably resilient,” Blue Devils coach Darren Hartley said. “After the immediate letdown (when the MPA announced football would be limited to 7-on-7), they bounced back and went back to working as hard as they had been. We feel horrible for our seniors. But we’re also very thankful that we’re going to have the opportunity to compete in 7-on-7.”

Lewiston has scheduled four games, opening Oct. 9, against Brunswick, Oxford Hills, Leavitt and rival Edward Little. Leavitt schools are all remote this week after four positive tests last week, and the yellow designation for Oxford County could throw a wrench in the Oxford Hills game, but Hartley said those games can be rescheduled.

Lewiston is practicing three days and spending two days per week in the weight room. The Blue Devils end the week with intrasquad 7-on-7 scrimmages, including linemen, which has helped the players embrace the idea of 7-on-7 games after being lukewarm to the idea initially.

“Our guys need to play against someone else, though,” Hartley said.

The teams’ focus during workouts isn’t on 7-on-7 but on the mission Hartley spelled out when he took over the program in early 2019, to instill a year-round commitment to getting bigger, stronger and faster. Players also cling to the possibility of 11-man tackle football in the spring.

“We’re concentrating on getting stronger and hoping to get on the field in the spring if that’s what we end up with,” he said. “We think 7-on-7 is an application. It’s a utility that we like to use.”

Edward Little is scheduled to play at Oxford Hills on Oct. 9 and Leavitt on Oct. 20. It also has games scheduled against Cony, Lisbon, Mt. Ararat, Gardiner and Lewiston.

Oak Hill and Lisbon were among the first teams to get on the gridiron last Friday with some 7-on-7 scrimmaging as part of a celebration of late Raiders’ head coach, and Lisbon alum, Stacen Doucette, to whom Oak Hill dedicated its football field on Saturday.

Oak Hill coach Geoff Wright said the Raiders’ ability to find closure after Doucette’s death last December hasn’t been affected by all of the disruptions caused by the pandemic, and he credits parents with helping the players through the process. the Oak Hill football coaches also encouraged the athletes to find whatever athletic outlet they could this fall.

“We started letting them know when football probably wasn’t going to be an option this fall and 7-on-7 was still up in the air, we said if you have commitments go with what’s guaranteed … because we can’t promise anything,” Wright said. “So we’ve got a lot of kids doing the wooden bat leagues, some kids trying some other sports, some guys jumped to golf. I’m happy for them. They’ve got to have something.”

COMBINES EXPANDED

The Maine Football Coaches Association is trying to give something to seniors who are hoping to continue playing the game at the collegiate level. It has scheduled four combines around the state to help college coaches see potential prospects and vice-versa.

After discussions with coaches and administrators, the combines’ organizer Skip Capone, who plans to work with the Lewiston football team this fall, expanded the number of workouts not only to meet demand but maintain the regionalized aspect of athletics that schools are following this fall.

In addition to Portland, there will be combines in Augusta and Lewiston the weekend of Oct. 3 and 4. Another will be held in Old Town on Oct. 11.

The Lewiston event is scheduled for 3-6 p.m. on Oct. 4 at Lewiston High School. The workout is for athletes in Androscoggin County. Capone said organizers are hoping to add a combine in Oxford and York counties once those areas return to green.

Interested senior football players are asked to register through their coach. Registration is free but organizers are asking for a $25 donation for the Shriners Hospital for Children, the charity that benefits from the annual Maine Shrine Lobster Bowl.

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