HALLOWELL — Ben Lucas had everything a touted 17-year-old high school quarterback might want. The golden arm and great teammates. A team championship and the Fitzpatrick Trophy that proclaimed him the best senior player in Maine high school football last year.
Lucas got the scholarship offer to play for his state university. He started dating Allie Clement, the McAuley High basketball star. They’re the All-American couple.
Dreams, blue skies and love.
Tuesday, the University of Maine announced Lucas had left its football program for personal reasons. Lucas wasn’t talking but Rob Vachon, his coach at Cony High in Augusta, said the quarterback needed surgery for a torn labrum in his shoulder.
What wasn’t said out loud was the news that Alison Lucas was diagnosed this May with cancer. She is Ben’s mother. There will be a fundraiser for Team Lucas, as they’ve been named, on Aug. 16 at Cony High’s Alumni Field. About one week later, Ben will have shoulder surgery.
He hopes to be cleared to play football again within a year. He probably won’t ever play for Maine.
“I’m all right, I really am,” Lucas said Saturday morning, sitting in a bakery in downtown Hallowell. His family, which includes his father, Chip, and older brothers Nick and Matt, once lived in this tiny city before moving up the Kennebec River to neighboring Augusta about eight years ago.
“We are extremely close and will win the fight together,” said Lucas in a text after he left the bakery.
At first, Lucas didn’t want his mother’s illness made public in this story. His family gives rather than takes. “Because we never asked for anything, a few of her friends created Team Lucas in support,” he texted.
Jack Cosgrove, the Maine football coach, offered his support to Lucas, telling the incoming freshman he had seven or eight teammates with parents fighting cancer. Maine football would be his family, too.
Lucas understood. “I had to decide what was best for me and my family,” he said when we talked. He returned to Augusta from the Orono campus, knowing others wouldn’t understand. He expected criticism, especially on social media. If people didn’t know the reasons why he left campus, they’d make up reasons and see if they stuck.
Lucas laughed off the comments that he was a lovesick puppy and would head to Marist College in New York’s lower Hudson River Valley. Clement is a freshman there. “That’s not in my plans.”
He was wearing a Marist College basketball T-shirt on Saturday. Think of it as support for his girlfriend.
He stands 6-feet-4 and was the state’s high-profile high school athlete last school year. He was selected the Maine Sunday Telegram’s Male Athlete of the Year. Cosgrove loves to have Maine athletes play Maine football. If it’s a visible skill position like quarterback, better yet.
Lucas set passing records at Cony, including 89 touchdowns in three seasons. The eye-opener was his second-half passing performance of three touchdowns and 307 yards against Kennebunk for the 30-23 victory in the Class B title game.
“He’s as strong-willed a person as I’ve ever been around,” said Vachon. “He’s really genuine. Grounded is a good word.”
Yes, Lucas ignored the twinge in his shoulder last season. He thought it was overuse and normal. This offseason he threw to his brother, Nick, a receiver for Division III Endicott College. Ben was no longer in denial that he had diminished strength in his right arm. He wanted to be part of the Lobster Bowl this summer and put off surgery. In the week of practice before the game, he saw passes fall 15 to 20 yards short of receivers.
He told Cosgrove he needed surgery. He understands that football at Maine is a business. In his ears he heard Cosgrove say he couldn’t look at him as a football player until he was healthy again.
Lucas attended unofficial Maine workouts in June and July. He saw the size of linebackers and defensive linemen. He saw their strength and speed.
“They weren’t like anyone I played against in high school. What did that do to my self-confidence? I knew I’d have to work harder. I can play at this level.”
Now he’ll have to wait.
“I’m going to have to prove myself all over again. I have to earn the interest but I want to play again.”
He has reopened the connections he had with schools who recruited him before he decided on Maine. He had an 89.9 GPA at Cony last year. He doesn’t have his future planned. He likes the idea of a business major.
“It’s been an awful lot to put on the shoulders of an 18-year-old,” said B.L. Lippert, the offensive coordinator at Cony and a Colby College graduate. “There are no playbooks for the decisions he’s had to make.”
Lucas made them anyway.
Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at: