C. Nels Corey won two State Series championships as the Bowdoin College football coach. He was named an All-American tackle for the Polar Bears in 1938, also starring in hockey and baseball. As a coach, he started the Bowdoin lacrosse program.
Later, Corey was a successful coach and athletic administrator at the Hotchkiss School, a prep school in Lakeville, Conn.
“He did it all,” said Jim Caton, Bowdoin’s sports information director. “He played at the end of the golden era in college sports.”
Corey, who died Sunday at 98 at his Gardiner home, was remembered Tuesday as one of Bowdoin’s all-time great coaches and athletes.
“Nels was well-respected and beloved by his players,” said Howie Vandersea, a former Bowdoin football coach. “He was very much admired when he went to the prep school level. Anything he did — football, lacrosse — he did well.”
Vandersea’s first contact with Corey came while playing for Bates against Bowdoin in the early 1960s. He later got to know Corey well as the Polar Bears’ coach from 1984-99.
“Bowdoin was very well coached and had some very good players when I played against them for Bates,” said Vandersea. “We had some great battles with a couple of games ending in ties.”
Vandersea said Corey would return to Bowdoin for reunions and celebrations.
“I got to know Nels and some of his players. I put together a video on some of Nels’ championship teams,” he said.
One of those championship teams came in 1963, when Bowdoin upset the University of Maine 7-0 at Orono to win the State Series — a round-robin involving Maine, Bowdoin, Bates and Colby.
Paul Soule, a sophomore running back that season, played one year for Corey, who left for the prep school ranks in 1965. Soule, a former Deering High and Mt. Hermon Prep School quarterback, switched to halfback at Bowdoin. It was Soule’s halfback-option pass to Frank Drigotas late in the game against Maine that set up the winning score.
Corey knew Soule could throw the ball.
“Nels put the play into our offense,” said Soule, who lives in Cumberland. “We worked on that play all week in practice. We had run the sweep about six times with no success. It was a horrible day and the field was a mess. It was hard to cut. The weather was a great equalizer. I don’t think we would have beaten Maine on a dry field.”
They surely wouldn’t have beaten the Black Bears and become part of Bowdoin football lore without Corey’s strategy and the players’ execution.
Soule said Corey was soft-spoken and very well organized.
“Nels cared an awful lot about his players. If you even had a slight injury, he wouldn’t let you play until you were ready.”
Corey was head football coach at Bowdoin from 1959-64. It wasn’t long, but long enough for Corey to leave his mark with his players and Bowdoin’s opponents.
The Polar Bears also won the State Series under Corey in 1960.
In 1964, Maine beat Bowdoin 22-0 at Brunswick — the last time the schools met in football.
“Nels is one of Bowdoin College’s all-time coaches and athletes, but he also ranks as one of the state of Maine’s all-time greats,” said Caton.
Corey was born in Lynn, Mass., and attended Newburyport High and Governor Dummer Academy before arriving at Bowdoin in 1935.
Corey won a total of nine varsity letters in three sports in an era when freshmen weren’t allowed to play on the varsity. In addition to being named an All-American in football, he was a two-time All-Maine selection at tackle.
He also earned All-New England as a goalie on the Bowdoin hockey team and played first base in baseball. Corey also found time to play basketball before Bowdoin had a varsity team.
Corey was inducted into the Maine Sports Hall of Fame in 1997 and was in the first class inducted into the Bowdoin College Athletic Hall of Honor in 2002.
Tom Chard can be contacted at 791-6419 or at [email protected]