HEBRON, Maine - All-star training camps can make for some strange bedfellows.
After all, the football teams at Foxcroft Academy and Mattanawcook Academy of Lincoln have met helmet-to-helmet on the gridiron five times in the last three seasons, three times in regular-season play and twice in the Eastern Maine Class C championship game.
So it was only natural perhaps that at the end of their competitive football careers, Foxcroft’ s Evan Worthing and Jon Geiger would room with Mattanawcook brothers Ian and Nate Nevells as teammates on the East squad for Friday night’ s 19th annual Maine Shrine Lobster Bowl Classic.
“We didn’ t know until we got down here,” said Worthing, a defensive end. “At first I was like ‘ Oh,’ but it’ s been pretty cool. I know they did this on purpose, but we get along pretty well.”
East coach Butch Arthers of Belfast said establishing roommates during the week-long training camp at Hebron Academy is less about rivalries and more about matching players by position, as Worthing, Geiger and the Nevells are all playing on the defensive front or at linebacker. Yet breaking down any remaining competitive barriers among newfound teammates is an additional bonus.
“This has been a great bunch,” said Arthers. “A lot of these kids have played against each other throughout the years, so this is an opportunity to meet some of the guys you’ ve knocked heads with for the last four years.
“I think there’ s a lot of respect and camaraderie amongst the whole bunch of them.”
And in many cases the walls that separated fierce rivals actually had been broken down even before this camp, which prepares more than 80 of the top high school players from the Class of 2008 for Friday night’ s 7:30 p.m. opening kickoff from historic Waterhouse Field in Biddeford.
“I knew Evan already from outdoor track,” said Ian Nevells, “and that’ s always a more laid-back situation than football so we were already good friends, and I knew Jon from wrestling.
“You get here, and the bonds to your high school aren’ t quite as much as they were when we were playing there. Half of us are all going to the University of Maine next year, anyway.”
Training camp, despite its daily routine of triple sessions, does leave plenty of time to get to know not only rivals, but new teammates players had only read or heard about during their high school days.
“You’ ve got kids that have legitimately hated each other for four years, and now they’ re friends and it didn’ t take long,” said West coach Tim Roche. “It was almost easy, and once they get out on the field you don’ t even notice that these kids played against each other.”
Indeed, while the East and West teams held separate practices Tuesday, there was little separating the players on each team.
“It’ s actually pretty cool teaming up with the guys from all the other schools,” Worthing said. “I thought it would be weird going against your rivals and now being on the same team, but it’ s been pretty fun getting to know all the kids.”
From individuals to a team
The Lobster Bowl participants arrived at Hebron Academy on Sunday, some using the experience as a head-start on college practice that begins next month, others as one last chance to put on the pads.
“I’ ve been waiting for this for a long time,” said Jake Arthers, a free safety from Belfast who will attend the University of Southern Maine where he hopes to play baseball. “I was hoping I’ d get here this year and have the opportunity to get together with this bunch of guys.”
And while the players arrived here in various stages of physical conditioning, the early days of practice are designed in part to level that playing field.
“I’ d been lifting, but I just started running a week before so I wasn’ t in that great shape,” said Worthing, who will attend the University of Maine. “But I’ m in pretty good shape now.”
The individual players also are getting accustomed to new offensive and defensive systems, as well as the faster pace demanded by the relatively few practices until show time on Friday night.
“It’ s a great opportunity,” said Charlie Merritt, a lineman from John Bapst of Bangor who will attend Quinnipiac University in September. “It’ s a different game though because the kids are so good and it’ s super competitive but it really opens your mind to real football and gives you a taste of what it would be like in college.
“Besides that the social part is fun, so it’ s great all around.”
Bangor tight end Ryan Weston is impressed with how quickly the East offense is coming together.
“I’ ve been amazed at the dedication and focus people have had,” said Weston, who will play football and basketball at Bates College. “It’ s a whole new offense for everybody and it’ s coming together extremely well. You can really start to see it jell. The line is really starting to form and work well together. The backs are reading the holes and seeing the block, everything’ s really starting to come together.”