Thursday, December 5, 2013
HEBRON — They first met as 8-year-old boys with a lot of time on their hands. Alex Stilphen's dad had to return video of high school football games to Cam Cooper's dad at Bonny Eagle High. An exchange that might have ended after five minutes lasted more than two hours.
Cam Cooper of Bonny Eagle, left, and Alex Stilphen of Deering are sons of high school coaches and longtime friends who will play together for the first time Saturday.
John Patriquin/Staff Photographer
Greg Stilphen, the Deering High football coach and Kevin Cooper, his counterpart at Bonny Eagle, started picking each other's brains and lost track of time. Their sons amused themselves as kids do. What they did that day can't be recalled. Just the memory that neither one faced a timeout when they got home.
Alex Stilphen and Cam Cooper glanced at each other Tuesday during the annual Maine Shrine Lobster Bowl media day at Hebron Academy.
Once kid-buddies, they're now teammates for the first time, about 10 years after they met. Stilphen will line up at tackle and Cooper at wide receiver when their West team plays the East in Saturday's football game in Biddeford.
With 38 high schools contributing players to the West team, there's a lot of strangers on the practice field and in the dorms. But not these two.
"I can't say we're best friends," said Stilphen. "We went to different high schools. We didn't see a lot of each other. But we've known each other for a long time."
Ten years and counting. In May 2011, I saw the two standing together watching a University of Maine spring practice. That's when I first learned of their long friendship. The shared background is their bond.
They are sons of rival football coaches, which is its own rather exclusive fraternity.
This summer there are actually four sons of coaches on the West squad. Nick Kilborn, a defensive end, played for his father, Dave, at Gorham High. Zach Bonnevie, a defensive back from Spruce Mountain, the merging of Jay and Livermore Falls high schools, played for his father, Mark.
In fact, Kevin Cooper, Dave Kilborn and Mark Bonnevie are all on the West's coaching staff. Greg Stilphen stepped down as Deering High's head coach before last season and is not coaching in the Lobster Bowl. Although he has been a Lobster Bowl head coach.
"I remember," said Alex Stilphen. "I was pretty young. I was a ball boy. I had the towel the refs used to wipe the ball."
Cam Cooper was a waterboy years ago in another summer game when his father coached. Both Stilphen and Cooper remember being youngsters spending overnights at the week-long camp with their fathers. They remember jumping on tackling dummies and being thrilled by their time spent with the much older high school players. No one told them to get lost.
Now they're stars at tackle and wide receiver, two positions that couldn't be more different, attracting players whose personalities usually couldn't be further apart. Tackles accept the anonymity of their position. Wide receivers at the college and pro levels, especially, can be divas. Cam Cooper has everything but an outsized ego.
Cooper broke his arm in late October and missed the last weeks of the season. Ask him if he was rusty Monday, running pass routes for the first time in months and cradling the football as it came into his grasp. Cooper grinned slightly and shook his head. No rust.
Kevin Cooper is not typically a demonstrative coach on the sideline. He's in control of his emotions in the minutes after a game. Greg Stilphen wore his emotions on his sleeve.
Kevin Cooper was cold heat on the sideline. Stilphen's fuse was constantly burning. His son blocked and tackled with a precision that spoke to his poise on the field.
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