With high school graduation behind them and numerous college paths before them, Maine’s top senior football players will put on the helmet and pads for the last time in their high school careers on Friday night for the 19th annual Maine Shrine Lobster Bowl Classic.

Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at Biddeford’s Waterhouse Field, with gates opening at 5:30 p.m. All proceeds from the contest between the East and West all-stars go to support the 22 Shrine Hospitals for Children across the United States, Canada and Mexico.

The players have been practicing at Hebron Academy all week in preparation for the game.

“After four years of high school football, this is the game you want to play in as a senior,” said Westbrook linebacker Joel Chadbourne, who will play football at Maine Maritime Academy in the fall. “All the hard work in the weight room pays off when you get to come to this and play with all the people you’ve played against.”

One of Chadbourne’s future teammates at Maine Maritime Academy and current teammate on the West squad is offensive lineman Kevin Boucher of Gorham.

“It’s weird, because the last four years these guys have been like my mortal enemies, now I meet them and we turn out to be good friends,” Boucher said.

Ricky Hoyt of Bonny Eagle, who will play wide receiver for the West, is also headed to Maine Maritime Academy to play football and study international business and logistics. He said he’s counted five players on the West team that plan to play at Maine Maritime Academy in the fall. He’ll get to know all of them better when classes and practice begin in a few weeks. For now, he’s concentrating on meeting his West comrades.

“The offense is getting to know each other,” Hoyt said. “We sit around in the lounge and talk. The defense, too. A lot of these guys have impressive stats and career achievements, so it’s pretty cool to play with them all.”

Lobster Bowl players are nominated to play by their coaches and selected by a committee. They must have graduated high school and have plans to attend college.

Chadbourne said it didn’t take long for the players, who reported for practice Sunday and have been practicing three times a day all week, to get comfortable around each other.

“On the first day people were a little quieter,” he said. “By the second night, everyone was running around and talking to each other.”

There is a common knowledge of one another from game prep and competing on the gridiron, but the week of practice gives players a chance to get to know each other on a far more personal level.

“I’ve played against all these kids knowing them as just another face in a helmet, knowing who they were by just their number, but now you get to know them as people,” said Westbrook’s Ian Levinsky, who will play tight end at Tufts University in the fall.

Many of the players have been balancing intense lifting and running programs with a job throughout the summer months. Still, nothing besides full-contact practice really prepares them for a football game.

“The soreness is definitely hitting me right now in the neck and the legs, but we’ll get there by Friday,” said Chadbourne.

The West players also have had to quickly learn a new offensive and defensive scheme. For Justin Villacci of Gorham, the Gatorade Maine Football Player of the Year last fall who is bound for the University of Maine shortly, it’s been fun.

“We get to run a different offense,” said Villacci, who will line up at running back on Friday but likely play wide receiver in Orono. “It’s always fun running different stuff. It’s like a new present.”

How’s the offense different from what Gorham runs?

“Oh, man. We pass and stuff like that,” Villacci said with a chuckle. “In our offense at Gorham – no offense, Coach Kilborn – we don’t pass that much. It’s different and it’s fun, just a different offense and a different style.”

Matt Spearin, an offensive lineman from Bonny Eagle, plans to join Villacci on the Black Bear sidelines. The intense practice this week figures to help him prepare for the upcoming preseason practices.

“It’s a wake-up call, getting back into the swing of things,” said Spearin, who will study engineering at UMaine. “Three practices a day – I’m definitely not used to that right now.”

For some of the players, it will be the last time they play in a real football game. Windham wide receiver Travis Guerrette plans to attend the University of New England, where he’ll play basketball.

“This will be the last time I put on the pads,” Guerrette said. “It’s kind of sad. I love football, but I’ve always loved basketball. I’ve played since I was real little. My dad put a basketball in my hands when I was a baby, so that’s what I’ve always been doing.”

For others, it is the perfect way to cap off their high school football career before starting a college one.

“It’s an honor,” said Bonny Eagle offensive lineman Kyle Wedge, who plans to play football at Husson College while studying criminal justice. “Since my sophomore year when I started playing varsity football, I saw kids making the Lobster Bowl and that was something I really wanted to do. That, and win the state championship. Now I’ve achieved both.”

And the players are well aware of the good they are helping the Shriners to do. The game has raised over $340,000 for the Shriners Hospitals, which provide expert orthopedic and burn care facilities at no cost to children who need the specialized care.

“It’s a privilege, really,” Guerrette said. “It’s a great cause – the Shriners and supporting those kids.”

Wedge said it’s a win-win situation.

“I’m really glad that I can help children in hospitals who are going through a rough time right now, plus I can play in a football game,” he said.

Other local players on the West roster are Lake Region running back Adam Madura and Gray-New Gloucester defensive lineman Derek Down.

The West holds a 14-4 advantage in the Lobster Bowl, but the East has won the last two contests. While the game may be for charity, it’s sure to be competitive from the opening kickoff.

“Friday, it’s no holds barred,” said Levinsky.

Ian Levinsky (left) and Joel Chadbourne will represent Westbrook High School in the 19th annual Maine Shrine Lobster Bowl Classic, scheduled for Friday night at Waterhouse Field in Biddeford.

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