HEBRON — Every July, high school football players who were opponents the previous fall come together to play in one more game — the Maine Shrine Lobster Bowl.
For the 24th consecutive year, the top graduated senior players will compete for a great cause. Sponsored by the Kora Shriners of Lewiston, the game benefits Shrine Hospitals.
The game will be played at 4 p.m. Saturday at Waterhouse Field in Biddeford.
As usual, both the East and West teams practice at Hebron Academy, on different fields that are out of view of each other.
One of the traditions of the game is the swapping of helmet decals. By game time the helmets can be quite colorful. Plus, players are quick to accept former rivals as teammates and friends.
“It’s interesting,” said Alex Shain, an All-State running back from Sanford. “Usually, you’re trying to hit these kids as hard as you can. Now we’re teammates. It’s great to play with the best kids in the state.”
Shain and Don Goodrich of Cheverus, the Fitzpatrick Trophy winner, will be in the starting backfield for the West.
Shain and Goodrich, who shared a table on the Fitzpatrick banquet dais, are roommates this week.
“In high school we were rivals on the field and friends off it,” he said.
Coaches in the same conference who once plotted ways to stop rival players are now working with them.
“It’s a change,” said defensive tackle Liam Rottkov of South Portland. “Coach (Kevin) Cooper (Bonny Eagle) and Coach (Matt) Perkins (Windham) used to key against me. Now they’re coaching me.”
In the regular season, there might have been some trash talking across the line of scrimmage.
Rottkov summed up one of the bonuses of spending a week together.
“I’ve made a lot of friends so far,” he said.
The teams practice on separate fields and sleep in different dorms but have meals together. As for the football, most of the players are learning new offenses and defenses.
“It’s starting to mesh together,” said Shain, who will play this fall at Division II Assumption College in Worcester, Mass. “We’ve been doing our reps in practice.”
The East and West will run the spread offense. The East offensive coordinator is Mike Hathaway of Leavitt; the West offensive coordinator is Cooper of Bonny Eagle.
The offense looks to spread defenses out, forcing them to cover the whole field, unlike the offense Shain played in at Sanford.
“We played smash-mouth football,” said Shain. “We have a lot of smart kids so we won’t have any problem learning it.”
East Coach Dave Sterling of Edward Little said the spread means adjustments.
“The players are used to blocking in one scheme. Now they have to learn another,” he said. “The splits among linemen are three times wider than normal.”
This is Sterling’s first time as head coach in the game although he has served as an assistant coach. This game has extra meaning — it will be the last time he coaches his son, Alexander, an offensive lineman.
The players and coaches did their best to lessen the impact of 90-degree plus heat. On Tuesday, both squads scheduled their afternoon practices from 6 to 8 p.m.
The teams also are mixing in fun activities. They planned to go bowling and go to a lake before the week ended. They’ll have a banquet Friday night, then head down to Waterhouse Field on Saturday.
Tom Chard can be reached at 791-6419 or at: