Saturday, April 19, 2014
Thornton Academy will try to win its second straight Class A state football title this season, joining Cheverus and Bonny Eagle as back-to-back champions in the past 10 seasons.
Kevin Kezal broke through last season, coaching Thornton Academy to the Class A state championship. This season he says the team is in pursuit of a repeat. That means talent and that means luck. But it can be done, as the past 20 years repeatedly have shown.
Derek Davis/Staff Photographer
Andrew Libby, the Maine Sunday Telegram’s Player of the Year last season, is returning for Thornton Academy. And that’s a big reason the Trojans will be so tough to beat.
Derek Davis/Staff Photographer
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Repeating in any sport isn't easy, but Class A football has a history of teams doing just that. The pursuit of state championships begins Friday night with the opening of high school football around the state.
After being close in recent years, Thornton won it all last season.
The Golden Trojans beat Cheverus 20-13 in the Western Maine final, stopping the Stags' winning streak at 34 games. A week later they beat Lawrence 37-23 for the state title.
Can Thornton go all the way again? Coach Kevin Kezal and his players feel confident but know along with talent, a team needs a little luck.
Thornton was good and lucky last season. It went through the whole year without losing a top player to injury.
"It's our goal every year to win a state championship," said Kezal.
True, Thornton is the defending state champion, but Kezal doesn't see it that way. It could be a mechanism to take the pressure off the players who are younger this season.
"I don't feel like we're defending anything," said Kezal. "It's a whole new group of players. I would rather say we're in pursuit of another one. If we had the same team back I would say we would be defending. But we lost 15 good seniors. We have to replace them."
Defending or in pursuit of another one, whatever you want to call it, Thornton has a chance to keep the tradition of multiple Class A champions alive.
Bonny Eagle won consecutive titles in 2004-05 and 2007-08. Cheverus was going for a third straight state title last year before losing to Thornton.
In the 1990s, Biddeford and South Portland were winning titles regularly. Biddeford won consecutive titles in 1990-91 and 1993-94. South Portland won back-to-back championships in 1995-96 after gaining its first one since 1951 in 1992.
Brian Curit, back as the Biddeford coach after an absence of seven years, has a quick answer why these programs have won multiple titles.
"Look at the coaches those teams have had," said Curit. "John Wolfgram at Cheverus, Mike Landry at Biddeford and Kevin Cooper at Bonny Eagle. Those are coaches who know how to run a program."
Curit replaced Landry after the 1993 season and won a state title in his first season.
Another reason for those schools' success has been the consistency in the coaching staffs. For the most part they have remained intact.
"They've had great stability in their coaching staffs," said Kezal, who strives for the same thing at Thornton. "I've been very fortunate. We've had the same freshman coach for over 30 years and our youth program in Saco is phenomenal."
In other words, Thornton has got it going in football.
Even with the loss of a large group of seniors, the team has Andrew Libby back. Libby, a halfback, defensive back and punter, was the Maine Sunday Telegram's Player of the Year last season.
Kezal said a key to a winning team is having two straight strong classes.
"If you're going to win a title, you need two good classes in a row," he said. "A lot of teams have won one title but couldn't repeat."
Thornton is the largest school in the state with an enrollment of 1,384; Lewiston is next with 1,297. The opportunities for additional state titles could be a regular thing. The Golden Trojans won their first basketball state title in 2009.
Because of the nature of football, there's a lot involved in winning a state title.
"There's so much that goes into football," said Wolfgram. "It's more than any other sport. There's more to do schematically. There are the three phases of the game. There's the offseason preparation and the strength training by the players."
It's understandable, then, that high school football teams start the season with two-a-day practices for two weeks. There's just so much to learn in a short time.
"That's what makes football so unique," said Wolfgram.
All the preparation will start paying off Friday night. Teams will adjust as they deem necessary as the season progresses. Those that do could see the season being played out in the chill of November.
Tom Chard can be reached at 791-6419 or at:
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John Wolfgram knows a thing or two about winning repeat state titles, doing it with South Portland in the 1990s and with Cheverus during a 34-game winning streak that ended in the Western Class A final last fall.
Jill Brady/Staff Photographer