NEWPORT, Maine — When Matt O’Connell joined his brother’s football coaching staff at John Bapst Memorial High School in Bangor a decade ago, their team was mired in a 40-game losing streak.
By 2008, Dan O’Connell’s club was the Class C state champion, and the Crusaders remain a consistent postseason contender five years later.
The Nokomis Regional High School football program may not be in as dire straits as John Bapst was when the brothers arrived as coaches — having fashioned a 3-5 record in the Pine Tree Conference Class B ranks last fall — but Matt O’Connell hopes to establish a similar competitive status as the Warriors’ new head coach.
O’Connell, already employed by RSU 19 as an eighth-grade mathematics teacher at Sebasticook Valley Middle School in Newport, was offered Tuesday the opportunity to replace Haggie Pratt, who recently left Nokomis after five seasons to become head football coach at Mount View High School in Thorndike.
O’Connell’s appointment is subject to final approval by the RSU 19 board of directors at its June 25 meeting.
“I think it’s a great hire,” said Nokomis athletic administrator Earl Anderson. “Danny and Matt have done an unbelievable job at John Bapst for the last 10 years. I think Matt is the right guy at the right time for Nokomis.”
O’Connell said that while the John Bapst and Nokomis situations are different — John Bapst is a private school and Nokomis is public — the challenge of rebuilding the football programs at the two schools has similarities.
“When we started at John Bapst things looked pretty bleak,” said O’Connell, “But six years later we were hoisting a gold ball thanks to lot of hard work from a lot of different people.
“I don’t think this program is as far away as Bapst was back then. I expect us to be competitive this fall.”
O’Connell points to the already established football feeder program within the school system as well as the players returning to the varsity level in the fall as quality building blocks.
“I think we’ve got a lot to work with,” he said.
O’Connell also believes his presence as a teacher in the school system will prove beneficial.
“There’s so much accountability that comes with it, for one,” said O’Connell, who played four years of high school football at Bangor under Jonathan “Gabby” Price, now the head coach at Husson University in Bangor. “Also you’re right there to talk about and reinforce all the types of behavior you expect from the kids when they’re not playing football.”
Nokomis would have remained a Class B football school by its April 1, 2012, student enrollment of 704 under the new four-class format approved by the Maine Principals’ Association in late March. But the program — which generally has struggled since joining the varsity ranks in 2007 — opted to petition down to Class C for at least the next classification cycle for competitive reasons.
The Warriors won’t be eligible for postseason play while in Class C.
“The next two years coming up will be crucial, no question,” said O’Connell. “We want to get the numbers up, for sure, and we want to be as competitive as we possibly can be with a Class C schedule.
“If we do those things, then we’ll be prepared to take the next step.”
Nokomis’ 2012 Class C regular-season schedule consists of home games against Waterville, Winslow, Belfast and Foxcroft Academy and road contests at Old Town — the season opener on Sept. 6 — as well as at Madison-Carrabec, Mount Desert Island and Camden Hills of Rockport.
The Eastern Maine Class B ranks currently include reigning Eastern A champion Lawrence of Fairfield and fellow 2012 Class A programs Skowhegan, Messalonskee of Oakland, Cony of Augusta and Brunswick.
“We’ll look forward to that,” said O’Connell of eventually rejoining Class B. “We’re not going to shy away from any challenge. We have a great deal of respect for all of those teams, but if we want to be competitive with them that work begins during the next two years.”