April 23, 2018
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Hard-nosed running back Phillip Coulombe excelled despite shoulder problems

By Larry Mahoney, BDN Staff

Editor’s note: One in a series profiling the 2012 Maine Sports Hall of Fame inductees.

SIDNEY, Maine — Football is a grueling sport.

Players are required to engage in physical contact on almost every play.

Injuries are common; players have to learn how to play in discomfort.

They sometimes have to dig deep and drag the most out of their pain-riddled bodies in order to help their team.

Phillip Coulombe, the former Cony High School of Augusta and University of Maine running back, epitomized the term “warrior.”

He not only played with chronic shoulder problems that required him to wear harnesses to prevent them from dislocating, he is regarded as one of the finest running backs ever produced by the state.

The Augusta native will be inducted into the Maine Sports Hall of Fame at the 37th annual banquet on Sunday at the Bangor Civic Center. It will begin at noon.

He will be joined in the induction class by Walter Abbott, Emily Ellis, Ed Guiski, Matt Hancock, Dennis Libbey, Howard Vandersea and Dana Wilson.

John Mitchell, who played at Waterville High School, recalled Coulombe fondly.

“He was a great football player. He was as good a running back as there was in the state in my time,” said Mitchell. “He was a very tough guy. He wasn’t a nasty guy. He took a pounding and he could dish it out.”

“He was quick. He could really go,” added Mitchell, who also said Coulombe was tough to tackle.

“If you tackled him head-on, you’d get a headache. He was one of those guys.”

Mitchell said to be as productive as Coulombe was with his arms strapped close to his body was impressive.

“I had great respect for him,” said Mitchell.

Constance Coulombe, who has been married to Phillip since 1957, remembered watching him when she was a freshman at Cony and he was a senior.

“He was outstanding. He gained a lot of yards,” recalled his wife. “I also remember him getting carried off the field a few times. Both of his shoulders would come out of joint. They used to strap his arms close to his chest before the game, but he still played and he still caught the ball.”

Coulombe was an All-State running back at Cony.

“He was a hard-driving back. He had a great reputation. He was regarded as one of the best backs in New England,” said Stu Haskell, a former University of Maine athletic director who wrote a book chronicling the UMaine athletic program.

“I loved to play football,” said Coulombe. “I loved to carry the ball. The shoulders limited what I could do, but I played just the same. Things could have been better if I didn’t have my shoulder problems.

“I mostly played offense because it wasn’t as bad for the shoulders as defense,” he said.

Coulombe, whose playing weight was in the 160- to 175-pound range, said he used his speed to his advantage.

“I could move pretty good. I could avoid [tacklers] and break away from them,” he said.

He started for four years at Maine and averaged 4.23 yards per carry in 1950. He was an All-Maine selection that year.

He is also remembered for a game against the University of Connecticut in which he carried the ball 15 times for 108 yards in Maine’s 16-7 triumph over the Huskies.

Woody Carville was a freshman at Maine when Coulombe was a senior and he recalled seeing him in his shoulder harness.

“He looked kind of odd. I was impressed that he was able to play with his arm strapped up like that,” said Carville. “He was a very good football player. He deserves this recognition.”

Coulombe, who lives in Sidney now, admitted that he was “kind of surprised” when he learned of his selection into the Hall of Fame.

“I really appreciate it,” said Coulombe.

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