PITTSFIELD, Maine — The Maine Central Institute football team nears the start of its 2014 campaign with high aspirations.
After a turnaround season last fall, when the Huskies finished 7-2 and reached the LTC Eastern Maine Class D semifinals after experiencing a winless autumn the year before, coach Tom Bertrand’s veteran club is filled with championship ambition.
“I think we’re hungry for it,” MCI senior captain Nick Deckert said of a program that won its most recent LTC title in 2000 and last state crown in 1974. “We got closer to states last year — we were one game away from Eastern Maine — so I think it just gives us the hunger to want it even more this year and the determination to go get it.”
While the Huskies are single-minded in their quest for high achievement, they’re similarly single-minded in honoring a fallen teammate who won’t be on the field with them this fall but who will share their experiences in mind and spirit.
Nolan Berthelette, a soccer player in his earlier years, planned to join the MCI football program as a freshman at the school this fall.
The teenager already joined the team for offseason lifting sessions and quickly was accepted into the Huskies’ football family.
“The reason he wanted to come and play football with us was because of the brotherhood we have here,” MCI senior captain Mitchell Hallee said. “He heard about it, he saw it and he really wanted to come and play.”
Those plans ended suddenly and tragically July 19, when 14-year-old Berthelette died of a brain aneurysm. This close-knit town of approximately 4,200 residents has shared in the sense of loss since then.
“It’s a small community, and there are kids on the team who were very, very close friends with him and other kids who were just getting to meet him for the first time because they were seniors and just hadn’t crossed paths,” said Bertrand, a 1990 MCI graduate who also serves as dean of student life at his alma mater.
“But when I say we had a lot of guys in the weight room, it’s been most of our team working out together, and he was part of that group,” he added. “He was going to play football for the first time and was pretty excited about playing.”
The team is honoring Berthelette this fall, beginning during the preseason.
As the Huskies went through a walkthrough practice late Thursday afternoon in advance of Friday night’s home exhibition game against Waterville, the T-shirts worn by the players and coaches were adorned with the orange-colored “4U13” on their backs.
“It’s had a real impact on our team and on our community,” Bertrand said. “He was going to wear No. 13 and his favorite color was orange, so he’s with us and he’s going to be with us in spirit and as we try to do things the right way on the field.”
Berthelette’s name also remains on the team roster as a freshman running back and linebacker, and his teammates plan to wear orange “13” decals on their helmets as an additional tribute.
“A lot of his friends are on the team, so it’s good to bring everybody together that way,” Deckert said.