BANGOR – When the time came, Sean Murphy packed his clothes, kissed his wife goodbye and explained again to his three school-age children why their father’s summer vacation was over so soon.

He was going camping for two weeks in a college dorm with about 80 young men. It would be quality time. A series of opportunities for him to learn more about them.

And for the Husson University football team to learn more about their new head coach. The seniors – and there are only nine left – were recruited by Gabby Price and played one year for him before he resigned suddenly three years ago.

Former assistant Niles Nelson took over the program for two seasons. Last year, all the momentum generated by Price’s energy finally petered out. The Eagles were 1-9.

Nelson left and Husson quickly turned to Murphy, a Marshwood High and Plymouth State graduate.

“When I was a kid and in the car with my family, anytime we drove north of Portland I thought you were in danger of falling off the face of the planet,” said Murphy, who didn’t try to hide his grin.

He grew up in Eliot, on the New Hampshire border near Portsmouth. Wasn’t Bangor on the other side of the moon?

Husson opens its 2011 season Friday night at home against Adrian College, a nonconference opponent from Michigan. The game will be the pop quiz all freshmen face in their first week of classes. The little test that quickly grounds them.

Murphy has always been an assistant coach or associate head coach. Friday’s game will be his first as a college head coach at age 33. He has planned for this day for a long time, which doesn’t mean he’ll sleep well the night before.

“I never sleep well before a game,” he said. “I’ll be all right. We’ll be all right.”

He joined Nelson’s staff and suffered through last season. Only the very first Husson football team, which went 0-7 in 2003, had a worse record. Price coached six seasons and each was an improvement over the last. His last team went 7-3 and lost to St. John Fisher 17-7 in the ECAC Northeast Bowl.

“We’re not going to forget the past,” said Murphy. “We have to know where we’ve been to be excited about our future.”

His immediate goal is to win games and restore Husson’s credibility in the Eastern Collegiate Football Conference. Become a contending team again. First things first, but Murphy also wants Husson to earn attention statewide for what it does on the football field.

Fifty of his 80 players list Maine hometowns. That includes Imadhi Zagon, the running back from Portland High who was a Division I prospect. An off-the-field issue caused him to be suspended briefly from his high school team, but Murphy is giving him a chance.

“He’s humble and very serious about being here. I think the sheer excitement of watching him play will bring a lot to our program.”

Murphy seems equal parts teacher, coach and father figure. He caught the very tail end of the Rod Wotton era at Marshwood and played for Guy Lajeunesse in the mid-1990s.

“He had a motor that wouldn’t stop running,” said Lajeunesse. “Tons of energy. He played football, ice hockey and helped introduce lacrosse to the school.”

At Marshwood, Murphy thought his future was in hockey. But his relationship with Bob Weeks, an assistant football coach under Wotton, and Lajeunesse became the influence to turn Murphy to a coach’s life. Weeks, said Murphy, had such a great balance between his investment in his players and wanting to succeed.

“He gave me the perspective of the bigger things in life,” Murphy said. “He was the guy I most wanted to play for and make him happy.”

Now Murphy gets his chance to be Bob Weeks to others. Murphy had to make the transition from Wotton to Lajeunesse. He was recruited to play at Plymouth State by one head coach and ended up playing for his replacement.

“The older guys had a hard time adjusting. I roll with the punches. I’ve always been able to do that.”

 

Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at: [email protected]

Twitter: SteveSolloway