March 23, 2011

Steve Solloway: There's just no shaking the grip of the game

PORTLAND — The session of running football drills and plays was over. Nick Wilson walked off the artificial turf mopping the sweat from his face with a towel. The grin stayed.

"This is great," he said, eyes making contact with a stranger. He had played tight end and defensive end at Bonny Eagle, before the run of state championships. He played at Maine, an understudy to tight end Chad Hayes. He played organized football after he left Orono.

"I gave it up when I had a kid three years ago. I want him to see me play football before I can't anymore."

There were about six dozen Nick Wilsons in the dome at the Portland Sports Complex on Saturday. Maybe no one else had a 3-year-old son, but most had the same grins, put there by the opportunity to play competitive football again.

The Maine Sabers semi-pro football team sent out the call for a second workout last week. The first of twice-weekly practices begins in early April. Its first game of the 2011 Eastern Football League schedule will be in late June.

They will get no pay and, in fact, will have to cover some out-of-pocket expenses to play. During the season they will ignore bruised and aching and maybe broken bodies to report back to the real world and real jobs when workweeks begin again. Once a football player, always a football player.

Which is why Steve Goodrich has felt a tad uncomfortable by all the expressions of gratitude he's heard lately. The Portland businessman and member of the Maine Red Claws ownership group loves football. He was part of the first incarnation of the Maine Sabers 20 years ago and derived so much satisfaction from that experience, he decided to re-form the team after a nearly 15-year hiatus.

Not for money. The chances of flipping a semi-pro football franchise for a profit to a new owner are virtually nil. Not for ego. Goodrich most recently bought the Portland Public Market building for his company, Power Pay. He's a Gorham native with a string of business successes.

Note the Gorham hometown. He was a soccer player who discovered the satisfaction of playing football in college. Once a football player, always a football player. Except as a 50-something Goodrich won't be strapping on shoulder pads and a helmet. The challenge of recruiting coaches, players, administrators and support staff to win football games is why the Maine Sabers are back. In theory, it's the same formula he uses in business.

Except watching Jeremy Shorey, the former Lisbon High quarterback, Milwaukee Brewers' minor league pitcher and Husson University wide receiver throw a touchdown pass will give Goodrich a different thrill. And a lot more quickly than waiting for a quarterly sales report.

Maine is no stranger to the world of semi-pro football, dating back to the Portland Seahawks. The Southern Maine Raging Bulls, with a home base in Biddeford, have been around for more than 10 years.

Other teams have come and gone.

Goodrich simply wants to return to the party.

Fellow traveller Jason McLeod is his head coach. McLeod is the offensive coordinator for Windham High's football team and played at Bonny Eagle High back in the 1990s. He coached the Maine Freeze, an all-female semi-pro team. He was a head coach at Westbrook High. He's still a young man but a football lifer. Skip Capone, the former Lewiston High head coach and current Bates College assistant is on his staff. Chris Kempton, also a Bates assistant, is another.

Saturday, their enthusiasm was at odds with the modest stipends they'll receive. Once a football coach, always a football coach. The eagerness of players high stepping through mundane agility drills was infectious. John Wiechman, the star running back from Bonny Eagle and Southern Connecticut State and home on spring break, caught the fever and he was just a spectator.

Goodrich and McLeod would love Wiechman on their roster but he's considering other options, even as he's trying to cope with the frustration of the NFL lockout.

Brandon Dorsett, the former Portland High and Colorado State linebacker. Mike Leconte, the former South Portland and Maine lineman. Will Isbister, the former Cony High lineman now hoping to realize a dream of catching passes as a tight end. They were men with the faces of kids.

Goodrich, too. The former placekicker has just one concern. "I am worried they will ask me to kick field goals."

He laughed.

Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at:
ssolloway@pressherald.com

 

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