Dave Cloutier, the first Maine native to play for the New England Patriots, has died.

Cloutier, who grew up in Gardiner and graduated from Gardiner High School, died on Nov. 6 at his home in Palm Coast, Florida. He was 78.

He played for the Patriots – known then as the Boston Patriots – in 1964 after starring at the University of Maine.

Cloutier received a football scholarship from the University of South Carolina, but transferred to UMaine after his freshman season. He became one of UMaine’s all-time great running backs, leading Maine in scoring in 1959 and 1961 and in rushing in 1959. He was second in rushing in 1960 and second in pass receiving in 1961. He rushed for 159 yards in a 1959 game against Bates, tying Maine’s single-game record at the time.

Walter Abbott, the former Maine head football coach, was an assistant coach when Cloutier played for the Black Bears and said, simply, “He was really something else.

“He was one of the best players ever to play here. He was an amazing individual. Speed, size and strength for those days and toughness … He had them all.”

In 1961 Cloutier received Maine’s Harold Westerman Most Valuable Player award.

Cloutier, who was listed at 6-foot, 195 pounds, was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in the 18th round (242nd overall) of the 1962 NFL draft but didn’t sign with the team. Instead, he signed a free-agent contract with the Buffalo Bills of the rival American Football League.

Cloutier was injured and waived by the Bills and came back to Maine, where he coached at Kennebunk High School.

He then signed as a free agent with the Boston Patriots as a defensive back and kick returner. He played the entire 1964 season with the Patriots, returning a team-high 20 punts for 136 yards (a 6.8-yard average) and one kickoff for 46 yards.

Abbott said there was no surprise that Cloutier made it to professional football.

“I went to one of the Patriots camps one time when they had open practices,” said Abbott. “One of the things they did was sprints and Dave Cloutier was fastest of them all.”

Cloutier was released by the Patriots in the offseason and did not play professionally again. He returned to Maine to begin a career in real estate, which he continued when he moved to Florida.

His obituary in the Daytona Beach News-Journal said Cloutier “was a character. He left an impression wherever he went. Always a prankster, entertainer and storyteller extraordinaire; he kept us all laughing and left us light at heart.”

Cloutier was inducted into the University of Maine Hall of Fame and the Maine Sports Hall of Fame.

“He was just so full of energy all the time,” said Abbott.

Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or:

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