Jasper Cousins didn’t need to be sold on the value of the Shriners Hospitals for Children and the Shriners Burn Institutes when he was introduced to a couple of former patients this spring.
Nor did he need to be sold on the mission of the Maine Shrine Lobster Bowl Classic, an all-star game for Maine’s top recently graduated high school football players held each summer to raise funds for those Shriners’ medical endeavors.
Because back when the former Mount Desert Island High School three-sport standout was an 8-year-old growing up in Alaska, he could have used their help.
Cousins’ right arm was burned in a freak accident that subsequently required surgery and skin grafts.
“It was about a two-year process,” said Cousins after a midweek practice for this year’s Lobster Bowl, scheduled for 4 p.m. Saturday at Waterhouse Field in Biddeford. “It was long and agonizing.”
The scarring still remains around Cousins’ right elbow, and in recent months that has served as just one more reminder of the importance he has placed on both playing in the game and the accompanying fundraising efforts — which over the 20-year history of the game have generated more than $400,000.
“It means a lot, helping out a lot of little kids,” said Cousins. “I had a burn myself when I was younger and I wasn’t fortunate enough to have a good graft, and the guy from the Shriners was telling me if I had gone to them it wouldn’t look half like it does today.”
The injury certainly did not affect Cousins throughout his high school career, where the honor student earned all-conference recognition in both football and basketball and also was a solid contributor on the baseball diamond for MDI.
In particular, Cousins was a key part of a recent football renaissance on the Island, where the linebacker and running back helped coach Mark Shields’ club go 18-10 over the last three seasons — a run capped off with a trip to the 2008 Eastern Maine Class B championship game.
And while somewhat undersized at 5-foot-11, 155 pounds, Cousins emerged as a multidimensional threat on offense and a virtual hitting machine on defense for the Trojans.
While playing only on defense this week, the intensity remains the same.
“I think one thing you learn is that if someone overcomes the odds early in life it can affect your work ethic, like it seems to have with Jasper,” said East coach Dan O’Connell of John Bapst of Bangor. “He has a motor that just won’t stop, and I have to believe that some of the adversity he faced as a youngster probably built that in him.”
Cousins will continue his football career this fall as a freshman at Maine Maritime Academy in Castine, where he will move to defensive back.
He’s playing cornerback on the East squad for the Lobster Bowl.
“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.”
O’Connell, for one, sees Cousins making a smooth transition.
“He’s been non-stop since the day we started,” O’Connell said, “and as soon as we asked him what he thought about playing outside, he said ‘I just want to be on the field.’
“It’s that type of attitude that’s made this transition for him seamless.”