BANGOR — Joe Seccareccia made his plans for the 2010 high school football season almost immediately after the 2009 campaign ended.
“Ten minutes after the state game last year, I looked coach (Mark Hackett) in the eyes, and he looked back at me in the eyes, and I said, ‘Don’t worry about this loss, we’ll be back here next year,’” said Seccareccia, now a senior quarterback and free safety for the Bangor High School football team.
While memories of Bangor’s 35-21 defeat against Windham in the 2009 Class A state final remain, most serve merely as motivation for what is to come this Saturday, another crack at a gold ball when the Rams face Cheverus of Portland in a 2:30 p.m. start at Fitzpatrick Stadium in Portland.
“Southern Maine schools have a tendency to be fast, and we experienced that last year against Windham,” said Seccareccia. “They came out fast and quick against us in the first and second quarters. We matched that intensity early, going into the locker room up 14-7 at the half, but in the second half we came out flat.
“Forty-eight minutes of football is our motto this year, and we have to bring that out Saturday. We can’t leave anything behind.”
The 6-foot-6 Seccareccia began this season as one of the state’s most highly touted players and he’s largely lived up to those expectations, particularly on defense as Bangor’s leading tackler.
The three-year starter has completed 66 of 143 passes for 1,096 yards with 13 touchdowns and five interceptions while also rushing for 324 yards and seven touchdowns on 72 carries, but those offensive numbers might have been greater if not for the balance within Bangor’s offense, in particular the emergence of senior tailback Josiah Hartley, who has rushed for 1,274 yards and scored 18 TDs.
Such are the statistical categories that lead to individual acclaim, but Seccareccia finished second in the voting for Pine Tree Conference Class A player of the year to Luke Duncklee of Cony of Augusta, who piled up big numbers for a 4-5 team that lost in the first round of the playoffs. Then there’s the Fitzpatrick Trophy presented to the state’s top senior player by a vote by coaches and media, and while Seccareccia has been mentioned as a contender, whether he emerges as one of the finalists won’t be known until next month.
“Joe started the season with all kinds of aspirations and expectations that no one could live up to,” said Hackett. “There was a little heartache early, but he’s a changed person on the field and he’s become a happy senior player who’s a heck of a player.”
Through all the hype, Seccareccia has had his eyes on a larger prize.
“I realized at the start of the year that we have phenomenal athletes on this team and it’s an 11-man game,” he said. “Stats don’t matter to me, I just want to win and everybody on the team wants to win. I just want to play hard every play and not take a play off. Our team’s goal has been to make it to the state championship, and to do it two years in a row is mind-boggling because not many teams get a second chance.”
Seccareccia’s development as a leader — he’s a team captain with Hartley, Dylan Morris and Josh Bishop — also has aided Bangor’s return to the state final for the fourth time during Hackett’s 10-year head coaching tenure at Bangor.
“I’ve gained a lot of confidence this year, and I feel confidence in my teammates,” he said. “Leadership is something else I’ve built up. When I was a sophomore quarterback it was tough because I was playing with mostly seniors. Last year I became better at it, and I think that’s continued this year.”
That growth has not been lost on his coach.
“I’m proud of how Joe’s handled everything he’s gone through as a person and as a leader,” said Hackett. “He’s not perfect, but he’s come a long way. He’s such a perfectionist out there that he used to get mad, but now he just goes on about his business. It may not seem like a big deal, but in terms of being a leader that’s important.”
Seccareccia’s play was derailed late in the season, the result of an injury to his left (non-throwing) shoulder suffered in a game against Brewer. He sat out much of that game, then played just offense during Bangor’s 16-0 PTC quarterfinal victory over Edward Little of Auburn before returning to two-way play during the Rams’ 22-12 semifinal win over Mt. Blue of Farmington.
“When I got injured against Brewer, it was a shock to me, and a shock to the team,” he said. “It hit me hard. At halftime in the locker room I almost had a panic attack. It wasn’t good because I just wanted to be out there supporting my team. I love to be on the field, I love to play and I love to make big plays. It’s the best feeling in the world, and it’s why I play.”
Seccareccia looked to be approaching full strength during last Friday night’s 28-25 win over Lewiston in the Eastern A final, completing 8 of 13 passes for 154 yards while rushing 11 times for 60 yards.
“My focus after getting injured was to get back playing again,” he said.
Seccareccia believes he and his teammates are better prepared for this year’s state final experience.
“In that game last year there was a tenseness in the huddle and a tenseness on the field,” said Seccareccia. “You could feel it. I don’t know if it was the atmosphere or just the team we were playing against, but it wasn’t something we want to experience again. We’ve learned from that, and going into the state game this time we’ve been there before, we’ve experienced the atmosphere and everything that goes on around it.
“From playing in the (southern Maine 7-on-7) summer league to what we did in the preseason and season and now going 3-0 in the playoffs, it’s all been a confidence builder for us. To make it to the state final two years in a row is a tremendous accomplishment for all of us.”