Thomas Horton, a senior at Bonny Eagle High, is one of three finalists for the Fitzpatrick Trophy. He is the first lineman in 20 years to be a finalist for the award. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

There is little doubt that Bonny Eagle’s pile-driving, pancake-blocking, double-team splitting Thomas Horton is deserving of the 50th Fitzpatrick Trophy.

But did 6-foot-1, 255-pound lineman get enough votes to actually win the award, given to the top senior in Maine high school football?

The odds are against Horton, one of three finalists for the award. Only one lineman – Gerry Raymond of Lewiston in 1977 – has won the Fitzpatrick Trophy. It’s been 20 years since a lineman has been among the finalists.

And now, Horton, an offensive guard and nose guard, and the other finalists – quarterbacks Will Ledbetter of Windham and Caden McDuffie of Cape Elizabeth – will have to wait until sometime in March to find out. The organizers of the Fitzpatrick Trophy decided last week to postpone the award banquet, originally scheduled for Sunday, because of the recent surge in COVID-19 cases.

The winner is selected from votes cast by coaches and media members. The trophy has been awarded annually since the 1971 season, with the exception of last year when there was no tackle football season because of the pandemic.

“When I first found out, I was disappointed but not surprised,” Horton said of the banquet postponement. “COVID has taken a lot of things away from so many football players in Maine in the last two years and I’m just happy that we’re still going to have the opportunity to have the banquet.”

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Horton said he understands why it’s hard for linemen to win player of the year honors. They aren’t scoring touchdowns or regularly touching the ball. He also knows Ledbetter and McDuffie had great seasons. Plus, he’s good friends with Ledbetter. They played youth football together in the Bonny Eagle program. At the time, Horton was the center snapping the ball to Ledbetter.

Still, Horton believes he could win and, probably deep in his soul, that he should win the Fitzpatrick Trophy.

“I think it would really show a lot of people, to be the best player, you don’t have to be in a certain position,” Horton said. “Just give it all you’ve got. Work hard every play. And dedicate to your craft.”

“If he wins, he’s 100 percent deserving,” said Oxford Hills Coach Mark Soehren, whose team faced Horton twice this season. “The other two are excellent players as well, but Thomas was an absolute stud. On both sides.”

BONNY EAGLE COACH Kevin Cooper began touting Horton as a Fitzpatrick candidate early in the season. He also started keeping track of the number of times that Horton finished one of his blocks on offense by putting his man on the ground. During the Scots’ 6-4 season, Horton did that 42 times. He never allowed a sack. On defense, Horton had 72 tackles, 13 for loss – an exceptionally high number for a nose guard, made even more impressive considering he was nearly always double-teamed.

“There’s no doubt in my mind, if I’m picking a team, he’s my first choice,” Cooper said. “We sometimes in Maine don’t think that our guys can play at that elite level and Thomas can play with anybody, any state, any program. He could be a star if he was living in Texas, living in Florida.

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“What Thomas can do in a football game is really unparalleled to anyone in the state in my opinion,” Cooper added.

Horton was the unanimous choice as the Class A lineman of the year. He was the easiest choice to make for the 22-player Varsity Maine All-State team. He is one of three finalists for the Gaziano Offensive Lineman of the Year Award, which will be announced on Saturday.

Horton has superior strength and great technique honed through focused practice. But what really set him apart was his ability to give maximum effort on each and every play.

Oxford Hills quarterback Eli Soehren is taken down from behind by Bonny Eagle’s Thomas Horton during a game in September. Horton had 72 tackles, 13 for loss, in 10 games last fall. On offense, he did not allow a sack all season. Brewster Burns photo

“You had to account for him on both sides of the ball,” said Thornton Academy Coach Kevin Kezal. “He had great technique; a strong kid, an athletic kid, and he would play hard all the time.”

Soehren said in his team’s regular-season meeting with Bonny Eagle, a 19-6 Oxford Hills win, Horton “just threw our guys around. We couldn’t stop him. We had good linemen, and anyone he went against one-on-one he was able to manhandle … and he plays so hard.”

When the teams met again in a Class A semifinal, won by Oxford Hills, 34-7, the Vikings double-teamed Horton on every offensive play.

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“It’s hard to imagine there was anyone better than Thomas,” Soehren said.

WHEN GERRY RAYMOND won the Fitzpatrick Trophy after the 1977 season, there were no finalists. He got a call one night from one of the event organizers telling him he’d won. The next day, the news was in the Portland Press Herald. Maine Gov. James B. Longley, a Lewiston native, came by Raymond’s house to offer a personal congratulation.

“He came to our house, by himself, knocked on the door, and it was the funniest thing. My mother answered the door and said, ‘Gerry, the governor’s here to see you,’” Raymond said in a phone interview, laughing at the odd circumstances and his own relative naivete.

A banquet was held a few weeks later at the Holiday Inn in Portland.

“I remember it was a big deal because it was on the billboard, ‘Congratulations Gerry Raymond, Fitzpatrick Trophy winner.’ Oh my God, my name’s up there. And again, being a lineman, you’re not used to being the center of attention and that was a tad uncomfortable.”

Raymond went on to play at Boston College, where he was a starting offensive guard. He was a fourth-round draft pick of the New York Giants in 1982 and was one of the team’s final cuts in training camp. He played three professional seasons in the USFL (1983-85), earning The Sporting News all-USFL honors in 1984 with the New Orleans Breakers.

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Now a vice president for sales with Rooms To Go, a Texas-based furniture business, Raymond proudly displays his Fitzpatrick Trophy at his Houston-area home.

“It’s a beautiful, beautiful trophy. It’s a piece of art,” Raymond said. “It’s an amazing trophy and an amazing event.”

Bonny Eagle assistant coach John Morin recently set up a FaceTime call so Raymond could speak with Horton. Morin, the former Massabesic head coach, is an Edward Little graduate and played against Raymond in high school.

“He’s a super young man,” Raymond said of Horton. “I was honored to speak with him and I told him I thought it was fantastic he had the opportunity to be the second lineman to win the Fitzpatrick and I wished him well. Hopefully he does win. It’s been too long. It’s been 44 years.”

THE FITZPATRICK TROPHY is voted on by the state’s head football coaches and members of the media. Each voter chooses a first, second, and third-place choice from the 10-to-12 semifinalists who have been chosen by the Fitzpatrick committee. The semifinalists are selected based on a variety of criteria that breaks down to 70 percent football performance and 30 percent character, academic and community service.

Horton checked all the boxes.

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The younger son of a pharmacist, Tim Horton, and high school educator, mother Kelly, Thomas Horton carries a 3.94 grade-point average with a class load heavy with advanced placement and honors courses. He’s currently taking AP statistics, AP physics, honors English and psychology. In college, he intends to study mechanical engineering. His college choices have been narrowed to Western New England in Springfield, Massachusetts, and the University of Maine.

At Bonny Eagle, Horton volunteers in the special education room, using his study hall period to forge friendships and act as a mentor. He’s also volunteered to work Special Olympic events. He is a member of the student council.

“I like to be involved in the community and school, and over these past four years of high school, I’ve worked really hard to be committed to schoolwork, not just athletics,” Horton said. “I don’t think a lot of kids do that. I’m serious about school and that’s helped me greatly.”

It was in 1979, the ninth year of the award, when the Fitzpatrick Trophy committee began announcing the three highest vote-getters as finalists, then revealing the winner at an awards banquet.

Even with coaches having the lion’s share of votes, only four linemen prior to Horton have been finalists. Three were from Biddeford High: John Bouthillette (1979), Mike Small (1982) and Doug Schlereth (1984). The most recent was Stefan Scarks of Thornton Academy in 2001.

In 2001, there were 26 schools playing Class A football – by far the largest voting block.

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In 2021, eight schools played in Class A and 25 of the state’s 76 teams played eight-man football.

“Even Thomas being there (as a finalist) is pretty special,” Cooper said.

HORTON’S ATHLETIC AND academic successes are even more impressive once you learn he skipped eighth grade. Horton turned 17 on Dec. 15, a month after his senior season ended.

As he tells it, he was already a dedicated student, so the academic piece was less of a concern when it came to the decision. The bigger concern when he and his parents met with the superintendent was whether he would fit in socially.

“They didn’t want me to get thrown into a grade with a bunch of people I didn’t know, but fortunately most of my friends were a year older and they were going into high school. I already had good people that I could look to for help,” Horton said.

Horton is still tight with his friends, including fellow Bonny Eagle running backs Zac Oja and Nik Klein, wide receiver Aidan Walcott and center Jake McDonald.

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His older brother Will Horton – a 2018 and 2019 Varsity Maine All-State choice – was entering his junior year at Bonny Eagle when Thomas started high school. Thomas and Will, now playing at Husson University, were the starting offensive guards on Bonny Eagle’s 2019 Class A championship team.

“My brother was one of my biggest mentors. Sophomore year, I got to play with him, which was amazing; one of the best times of my life,” Horton said.

Now Horton will have to wait before he can experience another special moment to cap his high school football career.

“Having to wait two more months is going to feel like forever, and the suspense is just going to keep building up.”

UPDATE: This story was updated at 8:52 a.m. on Jan. 16 to include John Bouthillette as one of the linemen who have been a finalist for the Fitzpatrick Award.


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