BANGOR, Maine — The high school football rivalry between Bangor and Lawrence of Fairfield has been one of the state’s most intense in recent years, with those schools combining to win five of the last six Eastern Maine Class A championships.
Lawrence has lost just one regular-season game during that span, while Bangor has been the Bulldogs’ most anticipated foe.
“We definitely got up for it a little more in practice and tried to be on our toes more during that upcoming week,” said Jack Hersom, the quarterback of Lawrence’s 2006 state championship and 2007 Eastern A title teams, “because it was a pretty big deal.”
Already much talk has been generated within the Pine Tree Conference football community this preseason about the next meeting between the two schools — scheduled for Week 2 of the regular season on Sept. 7 at Keyes Field in Fairfield.
The rivalry this year features an added dimension.
Jack Hersom and his brother Mike, the sons of Lawrence head coach John Hersom, now are first-year assistants under Bangor head coach Mark Hackett as well as new sixth-grade teachers in the city’s school system.
And Mike Hersom’s twin brother, Tom, is a second-year assistant under his father at Lawrence.
“They come from a football family and a great football tradition,” said Hackett. “What gets me is how humble and professional they are. They’re great people first, and everything else comes after that. They’re going to be unbelieveable teachers. It’s a great find for the school system to have those guys here.”
Born to teach, coach
Mike Hersom, 24, also played on Lawrence’s 2006 state championship team, then spent a year at the University of Maine before transferring with his twin brother to Husson University in Bangor, from where they graduated in 2011.
Jack Hersom, 22, won the James J. Fitzpatrick Trophy, symbolic of the state’s top senior high school football player after the 2007 season, then went on to join both Mike and Tom Hersom at Husson. Jack graduated from college this spring.
“Going through college I was able to do some student teaching in the Bangor system and I had a great experience there,” said Mike, who taught in West Gardiner and was an assistant football coach at Gardiner Area High School last year before landing a job this summer at the James F. Doughty School in Bangor. “I applied all over after graduation for teaching positions and I was really hoping to land a job in the Bangor system because I enjoyed it so much.”
It was only after both Mike and Jack were hired to teaching positions in Bangor that they inquired about coaching opportunities.
“Just growing up around it, I sort of knew right off that teaching and coaching was what I wanted to do,” said Jack, who will be working at the William S. Cohen School. “I’m fortunate to have a position in Bangor where I can live out my dream, so to speak. I’m really excited to get in the classroom.
“We’re also lucky coach Hackett’s been willing to have us on his staff. We feel fortunate to be a part of this.”
For Hackett, it was an easy decision to bring the Hersom brothers aboard, in part because of his recollection of how they approached the game just a few years earlier when they were on the opposite sideline.
“We knew we weren’t going to beat them with scheme,” said Hackett. “We knew we weren’t going to beat them with tricks. We knew they were going to play sound football and we were going to have to beat them by outplaying them with blocking, tackling and execution.
“And they always found a way to do that little bit more or to make that big play.”
Jack Hersom is coaching defensive backs and quarterbacks for the Rams, while Mike is working with defensive backs and receivers.
“I like that they’re so young,” said Hackett. “We’re starting to get some [age] separation between us and the players, and it’s really nice to have that youth. They can run great looks and they can actually play with the players a little bit and show them things and demonstrate for them, while the rest of us have kind of gone beyond that.
“They love and know football and they loved to play, and that’s what they bring here. Obviously they know what they’re doing, they know all the aspects of the game and they’re great leaders.”
As for their parents, John and Roberta Hersom — both longtime educators themselves — are merely pleased their sons are gainfully employed in their chosen field.
“It kind of happened pretty quickly, but we’re very happy that they’re both teaching and coaching,” said John Hersom. “We kind of anticipated that they would get into coaching if they had the opportunity to be involved in an athletic program where they were teaching.”
Links between the Bangor High School football program and the Hersom family actually span three generations.
Former Bangor coach Gerry Hodge and John Hersom’s father, Lawrence “Doc” Hersom, were friends and football teammates at the University of Maine who went on to match coaching wits from the mid-1950s through the mid-1970s.
First, the two dueled in the Androscoggin River Valley, with Hersom at Rumford High School and Hodge at neighboring Mexico.
Later both moved up to the Class A ranks with each leading his program to three state championships, Hodge at Bangor and Hersom at Edward Little of Auburn. During the mid-1970s, their teams combined to win four state titles during a five-year span, with Bangor winning it all in 1973 and 1975 and Edward Little — led by twin brothers John and Jim Hersom — capturing the Class A crown in 1976 and 1977.
Doc Hersom died before his grandsons were born, but recent visits by Jack and Mike Hersom to visit Hodge at his Bangor home have been enlightening.
“It was really great to meet him,” said MIke. “Coach Hodge mentioned that he and my grandfather were teammates when they were at the University of Maine and that they coached against each other at Rumford and Mexico. He also talked about the rivalry between Edward Little and Bangor and he told of one really close game between them. It was really neat to sit down with him and listen to what he had to say.”
While Hodge and Doc Hersom were both friends and coaching rivals, so too are Hackett and John Hersom. They were teammates on the University of Maine football team during the late 1970s along with Jim Hersom — a former head coach at Edward Little and Livermore Falls who now holds the same post at Gray-New Gloucester.
The lines of communication
Jack and Mike Hersom say one reason they were drawn toward careers as teachers and coaches stemmed from being able to separate football from family life while they were growing up.
“My dad’s been great of keeping the football stuff to the practice field or to when we’re doing just football stuff,” said Mike. “Even though he’s been a coach for us, he’s been that normal dad when we’re at home and he made that transition so that when we’re on the field we were just players.
“If we approach him with a question, he’s always willing to sit and talk. And even though he was doing all his prep work at home when we were playing, whether it’s practice planning or film work, he never made us watch film growing up as kids.”
There likely won’t be any question-and-answer sessions among the Hersom clan in two weeks when Bangor and Lawrence meet in an early season showdown between two of the preseason favorites to win yet another Eastern Maine title.
“We’ll probably cut the phone line for that week,” joked Jack, who currently lives with Mike in the Bangor area. “We won’t be making too many calls.”
And Dad, or in this case the opposing coach, fully understands.
“I think the communication back and forth might be limited when it comes to that week,” John Hersom said.
Such is the nature of a rivalry, even among relatives.