He didn’t remember the patches of black and blue that marked body parts that pads didn’t cover. No memory of aching or cramping muscles. No flashbacks to the fatigue that swept into his mind when the last second ticked off the scoreboard clock.

After four years away, Matt Benson missed the feel of a football between his hands, and looking to his left and to his right and seeing men who had become his brothers. Those were reasons enough to raise his hand when Steve Goodrich and friends decided to reform the Maine Sabers and went looking for players.

“At first I kept saying I’m not sure,” said Benson. “Then it was, let’s give it one more shot.”

One more shot at a game that will pay off in blood, sweat and in this case, more than a few cheers. The Maine Sabers were winners in their return to the Eastern Football League for the 2011 season. Benson and his teammates walked off the field Saturday with a 9-1 record and top seed in the upcoming playoffs.

Benson is listed as the team’s 6-foot, 290-pound center. In 2002 he was an All-State lineman for Coach Brian Curit at Biddeford. A pretty good wrestler on a team that finished third in the Class A meet, and a winning pitcher and home run hitter on a good Biddeford baseball team. He went to Husson University to help Coach Gabby Price turn that start-up program into a winner and walked away in 2007 after being named to an all-star team of New England Division II and III players.

He’s 26 now and a counselor at the Sweetser School in Saco. He had moved on to the next chapter in his life when he realized he could do both and play football again.

“This season exceeded expectations,” said Benson. “I wanted to see if I could still play, if I still had it in me. This has been very satisfying. I joined a team where I just knew a few guys and now I have 50 new friends I’ll keep for a long time.

“These are the times I’ll never forget.”

Understand that the Eastern Football League falls into that loose grouping of so-called semipro teams. Players aren’t paid and frequently pay for much of their own gear. Their teammates are college students or fathers with children holding day jobs.

They practice once a week, usually, for weekly games. They’re coached and they’re fed. Win and everyone comes back for more of the same. Lose two or three in a row and players find other things to do with their time.

The men who score touchdowns catch the little attention the media pays.

The men who form the core of the team on the offensive line are anonymous. They always are.

“Matt is my coach on the field,” said head coach Jason McLeod. “He calls the adjustments during games. He understands the game.”

Benson’s younger brother, Jon, plays left tackle. As injuries took a toll, McLeod had to look down his depth chart to fill in at left guard.

Don’t worry, McLeod told the new guy, you’re playing between two of the best. Just follow their lead.”

Nine years ago, Matt Benson received the compliment of being big enough to take on any nose guard or linebacker in Class A, yet athletic and quick enough to handle smaller defenders who tried finesse or technique to get by him.

“I like to see myself listed at 6 feet but I’m really not,” said Benson. “I went against some guys taller and heavier than me with leverage, but our coaching staff puts us in a place to succeed.

“On the field I’m a completely different person. When you strap it on you’re doing it for the cause, to be part of something special.”

The Sabers are champs of the league’s Northern Division and will sit this weekend while other teams make up games postponed by Hurricane Irene. The Sabers have home-field advantage but don’t yet know who their first opponent will be in two weeks.

Not that they care.

They’re playing football.

Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at: [email protected]

Twitter: SteveSolloway