Thursday, April 17, 2014
Tom Thornton, Cheverus football, in a game against Cony High School.
No. 14 Guy Garon, St. Louis QB.
Quality high school punting seems to have become a lost art. Once in a while, a good punter comes along but the occasions are rare.
Rich LaBonte, who starred for York High from 1978 to 1980, was a high school punter who could boot the ball long with tight spirals.
Ted Welch, York's head coach back then, said of LaBonte recently: ''He's the best high school punter I have ever seen.''
LaBonte was also an outstanding quarterback who led a talented York team to the Class C state championship in 1980. The Wildcats beat Livermore Falls 32-7 in the state final to finish at 10-0.
LaBonte, now 45, went on to star at the University of Maine as a quarterback and punter before injuries curtailed his career.
LaBonte, who lives in York with his wife and three children, has stayed connected to the high school football program; he scouts the Wildcats' opponents for head coach Randy Small. He also coaches in the York Pee Wee Football League, where his 10-year-old son plays.
''Rich is a great role model for our players,'' said Small. ''He has tremendous knowledge of the game and is a great addition to our program.''
High school football was big in southern York County back in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Marshwood was a Class C powerhouse. Along came LaBonte and York to challenge the Hawks.
''We had an up-and-coming team in 1980,'' said LaBonte, who works for Liberty Mutual in Portsmouth, N.H.
''I think we had a stronger team in 1979, my junior year, but it all came together the next season.
''We had a succession of two or three strong classes. We beat Marshwood for the first time in 1979, but we lost to Massabesic in the next game. We had enough to get it done the next season.''
In a game that is still talked about in York, the Wildcats beat Marshwood 21-14 in 1980. It was a prelude to the Wildcats' state title win.
''Marshwood scored late, but then we just went down the field to score the winning touchdown,'' said LaBonte.
''I was the second-biggest kid on our team at 6-foot-1, 200 pounds. Marshwood was huge, with linemen weighing between 280 and 240 pounds. We had a lot of speed in our backfield with all track guys.
''I remember those times fondly.''
York designed its offense around the talented LaBonte.
''What an athlete,'' said Welch, now York's athletic director. ''He could do it all -- run, throw and kick.
''Rich was smart and super motivated. He was a pleasure to coach.''
LaBonte also starred in basketball and track. As York's point guard, LaBonte averaged 15 points and 10 rebounds per game his senior season and led York to the Western Class B final, where the Wildcats lost to Greely. In track, LaBonte was a member of the 400-meter relay team, which set a Class B state record (43.8 seconds) that still stands.
LaBonte was recruited by UMaine Coach Jack Bicknell but never played for Bicknell, who left to become the head coach at Boston College.
''Maine offered me a scholarship. I went up there primarily to be a punter,'' said LaBonte.
Midway through his freshman year, LaBonte became the starting quarterback for Coach Ron Rogerson. The team needed a spark, and LaBonte's abilities were well suited to Maine's wing-T offense.
''The wing-T requires a quarterback who is very mobile and can challenge the outside linebackers,'' said LaBonte.
LaBonte got his first start against favored New Hampshire and led the Black Bears to a 26-16 win. He also led Maine to an upset victory over Princeton.
Against Delaware, LaBonte broke the school's single-game completion mark.
Following the season, LaBonte was named Rookie of the Year by both the Yankee Conference and the ECAC.
''That New Hampshire game was the highlight of my football career,'' he said.
LaBonte was even better his sophomore year and was named Yankee Conference Offensive Player of the Year and first-team quarterback.
A back injury against UMass his freshman year affected his punting, however, and a shoulder injury his junior year against Connecticut slowed him at quarterback. Midway through his senior year, LaBonte lost his quarterback job to freshman Bob Wilder of Madison.
''Physically, I was fine, but I had lost the mental edge needed to play quarterback,'' he said.
Staff Writer Tom Chard can be reached at 791-6419 or at:
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Jim Soule, Morse High School football
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Staff Photo, November, 1989: #34, Steve Knight, Marshwood High School running back.
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1982 Press Herald file After helping York win the Class C state championship in 1980, Rich La Bonte moved on to the University of Maine and became a star there as well, earning Yankee Conference Player of the Year honors as a sophomore.