January 27, 2013

Steve Solloway: They're hits away from football

On his ninth birthday, Zak Kendall got an electric guitar. Two years later he took his first music lesson. More recently he played solo gigs at a bakery in downtown Farmington for tips and a meal.

Kendall also plays football. So well, he was nominated for the Frank A. Gaziano Scholarships and Awards. He's one of the six finalists from Maine high schools who will try to enjoy Sunday's brunch at the Augusta Civic Center before hearing whose names will be called last for the big prizes.

Six big guys, all linemen who usually get overlooked when the games are over, and praise and credit are handed out. Their value to their teammates can't be measured by touchdowns scored or yards gained.

Kendall played defensive end and tight end for Mt. Blue High, the Class B state champion. He and Greg Duff of Bangor High and Kurt Massey of John Bapst in Bangor are the three finalists for best defensive lineman. The other three – Bobby Begin of Thornton Academy, Jack Lucy of Orono and Andy Martel of Bonny Eagle – will be judged for their work on the offensive line.

I'm not on the selection committee. I have no vote. I was given copies of the essays each of the six players wrote for the committee, and letters from coaches and administrators at their schools. I don't know if Kendall will win.

I do know a little more about each of the six who play football's unsung positions. They're not one-dimensional big guys. They never were.

"I understand that life has just begun," wrote Bobby Begin of Thornton Academy. "I am not satisfied now and don't plan on being satisfied for a long time." He has worked in a Saco soup kitchen. He's come face to face with the unsatisfied.

Kurt Massey of John Bapst remembered when he showed up for his first weight-training session as a freshman. He was 6 feet tall and weighed all of 155 pounds. Now he looks at the 6-2, 220-pound man-child in the mirror and understands how far he's come. A team captain in football and hockey. He sang in the concert choir.

Massey didn't write about his four years at the Senior Prom at Sunbury Village in Bangor, an independent living home. His coach did. Massey was one of the John Bapst players who danced or talked with the residents.

My mom lived at Sunbury before she passed two years ago. I have no idea if Massey met her or not. I do know those moments were treasured.

Jack Lucy has a 98 grade-point-average at Orono High. He's No. 1 in his class. A team captain who did lead by talking and by example. When current University of Maine athletic director Steve Abbott ran in the Republican primary for governor, Lucy was a campaign worker, making calls.

Greg Duff, a Bangor High senior, volunteered in his church's Sunday School. He umpired Little League games and helped maintain the fields. "He is not the best player in the state or on our team," wrote Bangor Athletic Director Steve Vanidestine. "But he is a great example of what a person can do with his life if they want to make a difference."

Andy Martel, a senior at Bonny Eagle High, wrote about "the constant struggle to get 11 brothers on the field at the same time with nothing but determination to scrap and win every snap." Every team needs the sometimes thankless task of being a leader and Martel stepped up.

Kendall's letter was different, which by itself doesn't mean he's a better football player. Somehow he combined the ferocious aggression of a defensive tackle with the soul of a poet and made it work.

"(Recently) I stepped outside myself and entered a (singing) contest in Madison. To my surprise I won, receiving a $500 cash prize. Throughout my life music has been a constant for me. I can't recall a time in my life where upon hearing its soft melodies or witty lyrics I have felt anything less than tranquility. Music is where I see my life going."

Don't assume you know the kid under the helmet until you meet him.

Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at:

ssolloway@pressherald.com

Twitter: SteveSolloway

 

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