BATH — First ones on, last ones off.

It’s a motto Morse High football coach Jason Darling lives by.

At 12:01 a.m. Monday the Shipbuilders accomplished the first part of the goal, participating in a half-hour Midnight Madness practice on their game field at McMann Field.

“I was excited, very excited when I first heard about this,” said senior Parker Onorato, who plays multiple skill positions on offense and cornerback on defense. “It means everything to be the first ones on the field in the whole state.”

Monday was the first day for Maine high schools to begin practices for the fall season for football, field hockey, soccer, golf, cross country and volleyball. The Morse football team planned to reconvene twice more Monday, in the form of more traditional two-a-day sessions.

The Midnight Madness was more about setting tone and building camaraderie.

“I think it will absolutely translate into success,” said Trever Santiago, a senior and returning starter at defensive end and center. “Not because we’re going to gain skill but tonight is about generating the kind of energy that will put more fuel in the tank for the rest of the season.”

It was Morse’s first attempt at Midnight Madness, a concept more associated with the start of the college basketball season. The Shipbuilders are coming off a 3-5 season in Class B. Darling, a 2003 Morse grad entering his eighth season as head coach, said one of the mission statements of his team is to be the hardest-working group.

With Morse going into Class C this fall in the Maine Principals’ Association’s new five-division format, it was an appropriate time to try something different. He contacted the MPA to start the approval process. The school’s new athletic director, Nate Priest, quickly gave his blessing.

“I thought it was a great opportunity to have a team-bonding experience early in the season,” Priest said.

Before the practice, Darling returned to his tenets of hard work, respecting the game, and the bonds and values a young man can learn through football.

“You’re making a decision right now by being here,” Darling told his team. “I don’t know what they’re doing right now in Gardiner or Yarmouth but I know what you’re doing right now. There’s 45 of you and you took the challenge. And that’s the first step.”

The team attentively listened to the words of their coach and two guest speakers: Spc. Cameron Santiago, a combat medic with the Maine Army National Guard, and Pat Thomas, the vice president of programs at Bath Iron Works.

Santiago, 19, the older brother of player Trever Santiago, is just two years removed from wearing a Morse uniform instead of fatigues.

“I would have loved it if we’d done this when I was here,” said Cameron Santiago. “Football, personally for me, changed my life. It gave me more confidence and a bigger family than I was used to. What it’s all about is making memories and if nothing else, tonight is going to build team camaraderie.”

As the players walked to the field from their locker room at nearby Morse Middle School, the energy level was high, words of encouragement bubbling to the surface.

But once the players arrived at the field and waited for the clock to strike midnight, the mood subtly shifted. Now they were in the spotlight, illuminated by the stadium lights and a half-moon, with a couple dozen parents and the school’s cheerleaders on hand.

Without any music or noise from the sound system – in deference to the time of night and the neighborhood setting of the field – the young team seemed too aware of the novelty of the situation.

A tentative quiet spread for a few minutes.

As the short practice shifted into more active drills with increased running and some full-squad simulations, the energy began to rev back up.

After a half-hour, an energized Darling brought his team together and told them it was a good start, then had them break it down with a final chant of “Team.”

“I think it went really well,” said Tyreik Foster, a senior running back and safety. “I think it’s going to bring great energy to the season.”

“I think it’s going to show our heart and it’s going to get our morale up, and we’re going to want to be the best even more than we already do,” said Hunter Raedel, a senior linebacker and guard. “There was definitely a difference. I’ve never felt this amount of energy out on that field. It was amazing. It really was.”

Steve Craig can be reached at 791-6413 or:

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