Houlton's Troy Hipsley tries to avoid a tackle by Dexter's Tyler Chapman (22) and Cam Allen (7) in September 2019. Credit: Joseph Cyr | Houlton Pioneer Times

The Houlton High School football program will return to its roots next fall when the Shiretowners join the state’s growing eight-player ranks.

The team, which also welcomes players from neighboring Hodgdon High School and Greater Houlton Christian Academy, also will have a new head coach after the recent resignation of Brian Reynolds. He guided the program from its start as an eight-player program in the Aroostook Football League through its rebirth as an 11-player varsity program in 2014.

Reynolds cited family considerations for his decision, which came after he led the Shiretowners to three playoff appearances in his six years as varsity head coach, including their first home postseason game after a 4-4 season last fall.

“This was going to be year 15 since the program restarted in 2006 [in the Aroostook Football League],” he said. “I coached through my kids’ childhoods and sort of missed some things along the way, I feel.”

Reynolds has coached his three sons at the high school level, but oldest son Damon has graduated and middle son Noah will graduate this spring. His youngest son Kurtis, a sophomore at Houlton, was a two-way All-LTC first-team lineman for the Shiretowners’ football team last season but plans to try out for the Maine Junior Black Bears fall hockey travel team this year.

“If he does that I want to watch him play, and I want to watch Damon play at Husson,” Reynolds said. “I was at all of their games growing up, but when you’re coaching you can’t really watch.

“I’m also a firm believer that an organization doesn’t grow under the same leadership. I am not Houlton football and Houlton football’s not me. It’s something I did.”

Reynolds coached Houlton’s AFL entry and then continued as head coach when the high school team made its subvarsity debut in 2012 and joined the Class D varsity ranks two years later. He also played an important role in the development of the team’s home field at the Maliseet Sports Complex.

“No one really knew where [the program] was going to go, but in my mind I always had the idea that I would want it to move to the high school level,” he said.

Reynolds believes he has left the program in solid shape with a strong nucleus of remaining coaches as well as the support of the Houlton Football Association.

“Brian did a tremendous job getting the program started and getting it off on the right foot,” Houlton High School athletic administrator Bruce Nason said. “He was instrumental in getting the football field built and did a lot of great work for the kids and the community.”

The high school program has averaged between 25 and 32 players in recent years, Nason said. The school’s recent decision to shift from 11-player football to the eight-player class next fall represents a new phase for the program.

Watch: This is how eight-person football works

“With that change coming, it’s another good reason to let the program start anew,” Reynolds said. “All of the things you want in place if you were going to step away are there.”

The Maine Principals’ Association introduced an eight-player varsity football class last fall. Ten schools from around the state participated during the inaugural season, and that number is expected to more than double in 2020 — including an influx of former 11-player teams from eastern and northern Maine.

Nason said Houlton’s switch to eight-player football will enable the high school program to establish better depth while not requiring as many younger players to compete at the varsity level until they are more physically prepared.

“By going eight-man it will increase the ability to have JV games,” Nason said. “From week to week you say you’re going to play a JV game and then you get to Friday night or Saturday and two or three varsity kids get hurt and you have to replace them, and we just didn’t have a feeder team for the varsity.

“Going eight-man will make it so we definitely can have JV games and build a program and get the young kids more playing time before they get to the varsity.”

Ernie Clark

Ernie Clark is a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters...