ELLSWORTH, Maine — The return of varsity football to this community for the first time in six decades came a year ahead of schedule, but none too soon for Cody DelConte.
“It means the world to me, actually,” said DelConte, a senior linebacker and tight end who will be a captain for the Ellsworth-Sumner team that joins the LTC ranks this fall. “I couldn’t picture anything better than going out my senior year playing a varsity schedule. It means a lot.”
Ellsworth-Sumner, the first varsity team based in the Hancock County shiretown since Ellsworth fielded a team for several years during the 1950s, originally was on track to turn varsity in 2013. But when Calais-Woodland opted not to continue its program this fall, the Eagles stepped in to fill that void — though they won’t be eligible for LTC Class C postseason play because they are a Class B program by enrollment.
“I thought we’d have to play another year of JV, so I thought my senior year would be playing JV,” said DelConte. “But we got lucky we got put in.”
The somewhat sudden move from club status to the varsity ranks required some quick work among the organizers of the privately funded program.
“We’re one year further along than we were counting on, so financially it was a huge hit for us because you need the head sets, you need goalpost pads and the press box and the scoreboard and extra equipment for additional players that we thought we might have, so financially it cost us an extra $10,000 to $15,000 this year,” said Ellsworth-Sumner head coach Duane Crawford, a former Mount Desert Island assistant coach who has spearheaded the effort to bring football back to the city.
“On the other hand it’s a good thing because we’re going to have bigger crowds and more support from the community, so we’ll take our lumps the first year and go from there. It wouldn’t matter if we started this year or in 2013, as a developmental team going in history has proven that you’re going take your lumps at first.”
The Eagles dressed 25 players for their first scrimmage, and hoped to add to that roster once school began.
“We’re still trying to develop that culture, and it’s going to be a while until the football culture takes hold and kids realize they need to be here for two-a-days and that they need to be here during the summer in the weight room to be competitive,” said Crawford.
“But if we can get 30 kids consistently, and the eighth-grade class we have coming in next year is good sized, we’ll be in good shape.”
Expectations are modest for this inaugural season.
“We’ll be competitive on some levels this year,” said Crawford, “but our motto is ‘Just play football.’ We want to just play football. That’s it. It’s not wins and losses. We want to be as competitive as we can be, play hard, be a team, be a family, be positive, and be role models in the community. That’s what it’s about.”
After opening the season with a 71-8 loss at Foxcroft Academy, Ellsworth-Sumner will play its first home game on the Ellsworth High School campus under the lights Sept. 7 against defending LTC champion Bucksport.
“I feel like it will be like you see on TV, that’s what I’m hoping for anyway,” said Deonta Linscott, a junior running back and defensive back who took up football as a freshman. “I’m hoping our whole side will be covered with fans and the place will be going wild.”
DelConte, for one, believes the atmosphere created by playing home games on Friday nights under the lights will draw more student-athletes to the sport in the coming years.
“I’ve been to a couple of MDI games, and when they get the cowbells going and get everybody there yelling and cheering on Friday night, there’s nothing like it,” he said. “It’s powerful.”
2011 results: None, first season as varsity program
Head coach: Duane Crawford (first season at varsity level)
Key players: Cody DelConte, Sr., TE-LB, Capt.; Michael Brooks, Sr., QB-HB-DB; Matt Clark, Sr., FB-LB-K; Blake Macko, Sr., OT-DT; Arthur Herbest, Sr., OG-LB; Deonta Linscott, Jr., TB-CB
Outlook: The state’s newest varsity football program will take a methodical approach to its debut season, running the straight T offense. The Eagles must not be deterred by a challenging schedule that includes the top five teams in last year’s final LTC standings, including back-to-back games against Foxcroft Academy and Bucksport in Weeks 1 and 2 and consecutive clashes with Orono, John Bapst of Bangor and Mount View of Thorndike over the final three weeks of the season.