PORTLAND — The college football season is close at hand.
Thursday afternoon, the state’s six head coaches and a group of 50 other coaches, administrators and Maine football supporters gathered to celebrate the occasion.
The Maine Chapter of the National Football Foundation held its fourth annual Kick-off Luncheon at the Howard Johnson Convention Center, where the coaches shared thoughts about the 2010 campaign.
“This is always an anxious time of year, because ultimately as football coaches you want the season to start next week, and then you also wish it was the first week of July,” said Bowdoin College coach Dave Caputi.
He was joined at the head table by the state’s other head football coaches, Jack Cosgrove of the University of Maine, Chris McKenney of Maine Maritime Academy in Castine, Niles Nelson of Husson University in Bangor, Ed Mestieri of Colby College in Waterville and Mark Harriman of Bates College in Lewiston.
Former Sanford High and Colby standout Adam Cote emceed the event.
There was more of a sense of urgency for Cosgrove, whose Black Bear players are expected to report this morning for the start of training camp in preparation for their Sept. 2 opener against Albany in Orono.
“Each and every year, there’s an excitement level that builds as you get close to it,” said Cosgrove, who begins his 18th season as UMaine’s head coach.
Cosgrove applauded the efforts of the Maine Chapter of the NFF, which also holds a banquet in the spring and a summer golf tournament to raise money for its high school scholarship fund.
“This organization is growing in the state,” he said. “It really is an organization for college football, and Howard Vandersea kind of is the glue.”
Vandersea, the former Bowdoin head coach, is the group’s president.
Unlike Cosgrove, the other coaches have a bit more time to prepare. Reigning New England Football Conference champion Maine Maritime and Husson begin workouts in the next nine or 10 days, while Colby, Bates and Bowdoin don’t report until later in the month.
One of the common threads among a handful of the coaches present was a connection to Springfield College.
Vandersea was the head coach at Springfield, where McKenney played four years at linebacker under his tutelage.
“Mark Harriman, Ed Mestieri and I are all Springfield grads,” McKenney said. “It’s a great school and there’s a lot of football coaches out there who came out of the program.”
Looking toward the season, McKenney is waiting to hear whether All-America fullback Jim Bower will return to Castine this fall.
The talented runner from South Paris, who captained the Mariners last season in their run to a first-ever NCAA Division III playoff appearance, has been granted a hardship waiver from the NCAA to play this season, if he so chooses.
“We’d be ecstatic to have him, but if we don’t somebody will step in there and start to make their mark,” McKenney said. “Obviously, he’s probably been one of the best players ever to come out of Maine Maritime.”
Bower led Division III last season while averaging 160.5 rushing yards per game. He earned a power engineering technology degree from MMA and is already working in the field.
To be eligible, he would have to enroll at MMA and take the required number of graduate course credits.
Each head coach spent some time talking about his team’s prospects for the upcoming season. Caputi mentioned his Polar Bears would be young at running back. One of the candidates to earn some playing time is Bangor product Lonnie Hackett.
Hackett, who was among four Maine high school players honored by the Maine Chapter last spring as the state’s top scholar-athletes, has been nominated for Northeast Region honors by the NFF.
“He’s one of several young guys at that position that we’re going to try to work into the rotation early,” Caputi said.
In addition to assistant coaches and a few administrators from Maine’s football programs, there were some notable Maine sports figures in attendance. That group included Colby coaching legend Dick McGee, former UMaine coach Walt Abbott and longtime Maine high school coach Mike Haley, along with former Orono High and Harvard University captain and former Republican gubernatorial candidate Steve Abbott, Walt’s older son.
Haley, who is a retired high school administrator, will return to the football sidelines this season. He’ll serve as an assistant coach, the defensive coordinator, with old friend Dave Wing at Oak Hill High in Sabattus.
“We go back a long ways,” Haley said.
“I’m sure we’ll continue to have fun. The bottom line is, we still enjoy working with kids and this is a great opportunity for us to do it.”