Ryan Reid was behind the wheel of his car when he spotted the familiar shape of a large man walking. Reid pulled to the curb on one of Portland’s neighborhood streets, got out and faced the football coach who once intimidated him.

“I gave him a hug,” said Reid. The former Deering High star didn’t say if his embrace of Greg Stilphen was one of appreciation or consolation. Did their chance meeting come before or after Cheverus beat Deering 44-14 on Oct. 23?

Saturday, the two Western Maine football heavyweights will meet a second time with a bit more at stake. The winner plays for the state championship and all the tributes that come with it.

“I’d like to see him take another team and win the championship,” said Reid. “He doesn’t get enough credit. He’s a tough cookie and in the society we have where everyone’s gonna be a judge, I know Greg rubs people the wrong way.”

Reid was a fullback and middle linebacker on Deering’s championship team in 2003.

With Ryan Flaherty at quarterback, Rob Sampson at tight end and defensive end, and Mike Joyce, Joey Marsh, Ryan Piacentini and so many others, some consider that high school team to be one of Maine’s all-time best.

The praise hasn’t always included Stilphen.

“The fans didn’t see the coach we saw day after day in practice,” said Jon Presby, a lineman.

“I thought he was a phenomenal line coach. We saw all the effort and extra time he put in with us. All the fans saw was him going nuts on the sideline.

“He was an intense coach but we were intense, too. It all meshed. We had a blast.”

Champions usually do.

Reid, now a pitcher in the Tampa Bay Rays’ organization, was intimidated at first. “He’s loud. He’s a big dude. He’s very to the point. He’s honest. He wears his heart on his sleeve, there’s no question about it.”

Reid said Stilphen began to see the growing maturity on the 2003 team and barked less, trusting the senior leadership. “He understood that we understood. Greg gave us all the tools to success. He told us, ‘this will work,’ and we believed him.”

Neil Esposito was a 5-foot-5 lineman surrounded by linemates 5-10 or taller. “If you work hard, he’ll give you your shot. I was undersized on the line, but he made all of us play like it was Sunday in the NFL.”

Nearly a dozen members of the 2003 team came back for the Cheverus-Deering game and witnessed the Cheverus blowout that ended the regular season. They were embarrassed, said one. They thought they saw a team quit but wouldn’t blame Stilphen. It’s the kids today, said men who are only 25 themselves. This team will get it right on Saturday.

They credit the coaching staff Stilphen has assembled. Jon Presby’s father, Bill, whose insight into young minds was invaluable. Jon Gallant’s quiet passion, although that quality is shared by all the assistant coaches.

Cheverus Coach John Wolfgram is revered and respected. Over 40 years he’s built contenders and champions at Madison, Gardiner, South Portland and now at this Jesuit school, which last won a state football title in 1985. Wolfgram is uneasy with the adulation, saying he was fortunate in choosing job openings at schools in communities that yearned to win.

After leaving a successful program at Massabesic, Stilphen joined Wolfgram’s staff at South Portland High in 1996. Stilphen needed to catch his breath. He also took the opportunity to learn more. A year later he was named the head coach at Deering.

Men who played for him say he doesn’t get enough credit. His detractors, scratching their heads at his play-calling and the first Cheverus-Deering matchup, say he gets too much credit. Reid, who went to James Madison University to study sports management and play baseball, understands.

“Playing for him was some of my worst times and (at the end) some of my best times. I play baseball but football was my favorite sport.

“This (Deering) team needs to know this is their year and this is their game to win.”

 

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

[email protected]