PORTLAND – Matt Rollins’ 18-year-old legs took him quickly from one drill to the next, one play from scrimmage to another. Rollins looked quick, just waiting for the football to be snapped.
So quick, I had to ask the other Maine Sabers quarterback a question: Does he make you feel young?
“No,” said Jeremy Shorey, smiling ruefully through a weeks-old beard. “Matty makes me feel old.”
When the owner, Steve Goodrich, and Coach Jason McLeod revived the Maine Sabers’ name, the belief four months ago in tryouts was Shorey would lead the semipro team into the Eastern Football League season. Shorey was the former Lisbon High and Husson University star whose football career was interrupted by two years pitching in the Milwaukee Brewers’ farm system.
Shorey had the maturity and presence that can come with a 30-year-old birthdate. Rollins had the exuberance of youth. He just graduated from Bonny Eagle High this spring. He was the high school quarterback whose senior season and 8-2 record was overshadowed by Peter Gwilym of Cheverus and Jamie Ross of Deering, the Fitzpatrick Trophy winner and the Fitzy finalist.
Rollins is the kid on the roster. He says he’s the only 18-year-old on a team with more than a few married men and fathers. He’s the one who can’t legally have a beer with teammates after games.
“Every time I step onto the field, I try to prove to them I belong, that I’m not here because of personal accolades,” Rollins said after Wednesday night’s practice in the dome at the Portland Sports Complex. “It puts a chip on my shoulder. The whole season is a tryout for me.”
Rollins is the Sabers’ No. 1 quarterback. He passed for three touchdowns and ran for two more in the season-opening 41-8 win over the Charlestown Townies on June 25. After a 21-12 road win over Braintree a week later, the Sabers open at home at 4 p.m. Saturday at Deering High with a second game against Charlestown.
“I know we beat them the first time,” said Rollins, “but you know football. You can’t take anything for granted.”
Eight months ago he was playing with and against boys, no disrespect intended. Now he’s looking into the eyes of adult men who may have served in Iraq or Afghanistan, or played NCAA football. Rollins’ youthful poise was tested on the road in Braintree, facing hostility on the field and from the grandstand that was more extreme than anything he experienced. “Biddeford fans are pretty classy compared to what I heard.”
That’s when Shorey put his arm around Rollins’ shoulder pads and became the big brother. At Wednesday’s practice, it was amusing to hear Shorey call Rollins “son.”
“He won the job,” said Shorey. “Now it’s all on-the-job training. He’s learning from everything he experiences.”
Twelve years separate them. Neither really knew of the other. Shorey, who just got married, works at Bath Iron Works in materials control. He didn’t pay a lot of attention to Bonny Eagle football.
“I barely knew who Quinton Porter was,” said Rollins, who actually paid for some quarterbacking lessons from Porter, the former Portland High and Boston College quarterback, now with the Hamiton Tiger-Cats in the Canadian Football League. “But I’ve learned what Jeremy’s done.”
Rollins’ dream was to play college football, perhaps in Division III. The plan was to attend Norwich Academy, a prep school, but there wasn’t enough financial aid. Instead, Rollins will enroll at the University of Southern Maine and get his football fix playing for the Sabers.
“There was a small bit of concern having a teenager essentially lead the team on the field, particularly for a first-year squad,” said Jason McLeod. “I think the veteran and seasoned players that Matt has around him have eased most of my initial concerns.”
It helps, too, that McLeod put in a spread-style offense that is similar to Coach Kevin Cooper’s system at Bonny Eagle. The Sabers have an offensive line that works well together, and receivers and backs who are good playmakers.
“We’re here to enjoy the game, laugh it up and hit people,” said Shorey. “This team is gonna have some fun (winning games.) Sure, I want to be the quarterback, but we have to get the wins. I’m the captain, I’m the leader and I’m still the best punter. I’ll give as much support as I can.”
He looked at Rollins walking off the turf.
“I didn’t have those legs when I was 18.”
Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at email@example.com