HEBRON, Maine — Individual preparation for the Maine Shrine Lobster Bowl Classic is geared toward approaching the physical form of the previous football season that led to each player being considered for selection to the prestigious all-star game.
But just as important for the more than 90 players who have converged on Hebron Academy this week to practice for the 24th annual clash of the state’s top recently graduated high school standouts is learning the playbook quickly.
Sometimes that’s easy if the offense or defense is similar to that run by a player during the high school season.
Take Bangor High School’s Cody Chapman. He played inside linebacker in the Rams’ 5-2 defensive formation last fall, and this week he’ll be in a somewhat similar alignment for the East when it squares off against the West all-stars at 4 p.m. Saturday at historic Waterhouse Field in Biddeford.
“Here I’m going to play in the middle with [Lawrence of Fairfield’s] Spencer [Carey] as sort of a rover, so it’s more like a one inside linebacker set,” said Chapman Tuesday morning as the Lobster Bowl squads took a break from their three-a-day workouts.
“It’s pretty similar to high school for me. It’s got the same downhill mentality, but where I’m playing over the center now I can see a lot more because I don’t have an offensive lineman trying to block me every time like I did in high school.”
For many other players, the transition may not be quite as smooth, particularly for those who may have played in a tight offensive formation like the double-wing.
The Lobster Bowl in recent years has featured both teams playing in spread offensive formations that often has led to more passing than seen from many high school programs during the fall. This year is expected to be no exception.
“Class C is definitely big for the run game,” said Donnie Boyer, an East running back from reigning Class C state champion Foxcroft Academy of Dover-Foxcroft, “while Class A has a little more passing and there’s more passing here than there was in high school for me.”
The players and coaches arrived Sunday to begin their workouts, and by mid-Tuesday both head coaches, Dave Sterling of Edward Little of Auburn for the East and South Portland’s Steve Stinson for the West, were pleased with how the individual players had begun to meld — or melt, given mid-day temperatures in the low 90s — into their respective teams.
“All of the players have understood whatever we’re teaching,” said Sterling. “Some may have come from a double-wing program or a wing T or a spread, and what [East offensive coordinator Mike] Hathaway [of Leavitt of Turner Center] brings here for a spread program is probably 100 percent different from anything they’ve done, but they’re all doing it.
“We actually had a scrimmage [Monday] night in full gear on just our second full night, and it went off without a hitch. We didn’t have a blown play, we didn’t have a missed assignment, and that just shows that these guys want to make this an even better event than it’s been in years past.”
Much of the success or failure of the early week practices depends on the coaching staffs being able to share information with their players in quick but easily understood fashion.
“The way the Lobster Bowl works is you’re only allowed eight formations, and you trade those months in advance,” said Stinson. “We definitely have spread components, we have no-huddle components and there are huddle components, and we have some condensed formations as well so we have a chance to find what we like and then press that pedal.
“[Bonny Eagle of Standish] coach [Kevin] Cooper, our offensive coordinator, and [Windham] coach [Matt] Perkins, the defensive coordinator, have have a lot of experience with this game, and that’s good because you really need to understand your installation schedule, have your eight formations ready but be able to rein yourself back a little bit to make sure you can get stuff in productively and have a package you can run effectively on Saturday.”
But all the coaching preparation is dependent on the players’ ability to comprehend and apply those offensive and defensive formations almost immediately upon receiving their playbooks.
“These kids’ football IQs are real high, but I think some of the kids may have forgotten some of the stuff they learned from last fall,” said Stinson, who also played in the third Maine Shrine Lobster Bowl Classic in 1992. “So you start from square one, and if your teaching progression is sound and you keep it narrow and you’ve got kids with high football IQs, you can get everything you need repped and in.”
One advantage the players have during Lobster Bowl practices compared to their high school days is that in this benefit game for the Shriners Hospitals for Children most can concentrate on playing either offense or defense, not both sides of the line of scrimmage that has been the norm in the fall.
“I’ve run the spread, but there are so many more reads and different plays here,” said East quarterback Jordan Whitney of 2012 Class B state champion Mt. Blue of Farmington. “It’s a lot more complex, but I like it a lot better.
“For me it’s just a great opportunity to be here. We’re doing it for the kids and for the Shriners, and just to be here with all this talent is an honor. It’s just crazy, and so much fun.”
The primary means of beating the heat for this year’s Lobster Bowl participants are closely monitored practices and plenty of hydration.
But recently graduated Foxcroft Academy running back Donnie Boyer is offering another option for dealing with the current heat wave around training camp — free haircuts.
“I’ve already given three or four haircuts by now,” said Boyer, who will play college football this fall at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. “I brought my clippers just in case people got in the team spirit.”
One player who quickly bought into the camaraderie of Lobster Bowl week spirit was East linebacker Cody Chapman of Bangor. Chapman, who will continue his football career at Maine Maritime Academy in Castine next month, was sporting a fresh crewcut with the word “EAST” clipped out on the right side of his head during a media availability for Lobster Bowl participants Tuesday.
As for Boyer, who does not plan to major in haircutting at Carnegie Mellon, his hair also is short but he’s hoping to get another trim before game day.
“I’ll probably end up trying to give out a few more haircuts, and hopefully I’ll find someone to cut my hair,” he said. “I don’t know who I’m going to trust to do that yet, but I’ll definitely give out a few more.”