HEBRON, Maine — Talent and commitment are two keys to success for any football player selected to play in the Maine Shrine Lobster Bowl Classic.
But another prerequisite for most of the recently graduated high school standouts looking to make a splash in this annual battle between East and West is adaptability.
Such adaptability comes in at least two forms — learning a new offense or defense during a week of pregame practices at Hebron Academy, or sometimes learning a new position during that same relatively brief training period.
Many of the all-stars from throughout the state play the same positions as the stars of their respective high school teams, so some must be quick studies elsewhere on the gridiron in order to get significant playing time in this year’s 20th annual contest, to be held at Saturday at historic Waterhouse Field in Biddeford.
The opening kickoff is scheduled for 4 p.m.
Travis Spencer, an all-Pine Tree Conference offensive center from Belfast, suddenly found himself learning the intricacies of playing tight end this week within an offense considerably different from what he played during his career with the Lions.
“We ran a lot of straight-forward stuff at Belfast, but here we’re in a spread offense,” said Spencer. “And now that I’m playing tight end, it’s not just blocking the tackle and then blocking the linebacker, what I have to do is a lot different.”
When Spencer arrived at training camp Sunday, he initially was told he would play offensive guard and then defensive end before the East coaching staff finally decided the athletic lineman — a four-time state wrestling champion — might best contribute at tight end.
“It’s a little confusing at times because I’ve never played it before,” said Spencer after Tuesday morning’s practice. “But I like it.”
Tyler Pembroke of Bangor, a wide receiver for the East, will play the same position as he did as a high school senior, but like Spencer will be running his routes from a different formation.
“It’s completely different,” he said. “But we have a lot of receivers who are good, and the quarterbacks [Cody Goddard of Edward Little of Auburn and Derek Smith from John Bapst of Bangor] are great so they can just air it out to us and we can go up and get it.”
Jasper Cousins of Mount Desert Island will be one of the East defenders charged with controlling a West offense that also is expected to employ a spread formation.
And while he does have some experience with pass defense, much of his responsibility in helping his high school team qualify for postseason play centered on being a primary tackler as a linebacker for the Trojans.
On Saturday, Cousins will be strictly a cornerback.
“It’s more coverage than hitting so you have to get used to that,” he said. “I’m going to have to bite my tongue a little instead of just running up and wanting to hit the guy. I’m going to have to keep covering the guy when he runs deep.”
Cousins will derive an added benefit from this week of training camp as well as the game.
He also expects to play in the defensive backfield this fall as a freshman football player at Maine Maritime Academy in Castine.
“This is good preparation because I’m not playing linebacker in college,” said Cousins. “I’ll either be playing safety or corner, so this is giving me a heads-up for whatever I’ll be doing.”
And the need for adaptability isn’t confined to the players — the coaching staffs for each team also represent all-star rosters from around the state.
Dan O’Connell, who made his Lobster Bowl debut as an assistant coach last summer, is the East’s head coach this year, and with that change in role comes some different responsibilities.
“Unfortunately as the head coach you don’t get to coach the kids as much from a football standpoint, but from a morale and a teamwork standpoint you get to do a lot of that,” said O’Connell, who guided John Bapst to the Class C state championship last fall.
“But the biggest adjustment is just the organizational part of cramming in everything we need to do to get an offense and a defense in within a week, and then making sure the kids have a great experience and understand what the game’s all about.”