CASTINE — Spending four years at Maine Maritime Academy studying and playing football wasn’t in Matt Hebert’s plans. Joel Chadbourne didn’t see this coming, either.

This town at land’s end and its campus were answers to geography trivia questions, not a destination for two teenagers growing up in South Portland and Westbrook. Now, 14 years after they first played together on a pee wee football team, they’re two of the team’s three captains.

Two leaders on a team of leaders. Maine Maritime does ask all its students to think quickly and correctly on their feet, and to step up when called.

Two captains in a small college football program that learned how to win again. Maine Maritime qualified for the NCAA Division III football playoffs for the first time in 2009 under Coach Chris McKenney’s watch.

Two young men in a program that understands how to welcome outsiders and introduce them to what Maine Maritime is all about. “It was the players already here who sold me on my visit,” said Hebert, a lineman and punter. “I was looking at St. Anselm’s but I wasn’t feeling it when I went there. Coach McKenney came to South Portland and talked to me. I got a letter from the coach at St. Anselm’s.

Chadbourne was a linebacker at Westbrook who was heading to Husson for a business degree. It wasn’t exactly what he wanted but he thought it couldn’t hurt. He remembered his talk with McKenney, a bear of a man who doesn’t oversell or preach his program at Maine Maritime. If Husson wasn’t an exact fit, maybe the academy would be.

“I knew there was a Maine Maritime but I really didn’t know anything about it. Look where it is.”

To reach Castine from the south or west, you usually head to Belfast and drive north on Route 1 to Bucksport. Then it’s east and north over two-lane state roads to the end of the peninsula jutting into Penobscot Bay. For the last 20 minutes of my noontime drive Tuesday, I didn’t see a soul, save for a half-dozen cars heading away from Castine and one solitary cyclist.

Near the waterfront, where the training ship “State of Maine” is docked, there are some businesses. I came out of one as the academy’s regiment passed, sounding off in military cadence, breaking the street’s silence. Hebert and Chadbourne are both power engineering technology majors and not required to be in the regiment.

Athletic Director Steve Peed listens to men and women applying for vacancies in the athletic department and waits for the question that invariably comes: What do you do there when you’re not working? Peed will talk about the hiking, the boating, the local golf course, the area’s beauty and the friendliness of the locals.

“But what do you do on Friday nights?”

That’s when Peed knows he doesn’t have a new hire.

“This place is tucked away,” said Chadbourne. “It is isolated. It’s a well-kept secret. The football is old school. I love it.”

So old school, there’s real emotion on the field, the sideline and in the modest metal bleachers. Hebert remembers breaking down after one big win in 2010 when the Mariners went 8-3. McKenney asked why he was crying.

“Tears of joy, Coach. I’m so happy.”

Hebert tore up his right knee early last season. His was one of many injuries that hit the team hard as it slipped to 4-5, the first losing season in Hebert and Chadbourne’s time at Maine Maritime.

Hebert applied for a medical waiver and got it. He’ll return to Castine next fall for one more semester and one more football season.

Chadbourne was a year ahead of Hebert, although both are 22. Chadbourne took a year off in the 2009 season to get a job. He made sure he came back.

Through different middle schools and high schools, Hebert and Chadbourne kept tabs on each other. Many times it was Hebert’s assignment to block Chadbourne. Neither will say who won more battles.

They’re football grunts, really. An offensive lineman and a linebacker. The third captain, Tyler Chamberlain of Eddington, near Bangor, is a defensive lineman. There’s a distinct blue-collar ethic to McKenney-coached teams.

Their season opens Sept. 8 at Worcester, Mass., playing Anna Maria.

The two captains, classmates and friends, will be ready.


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

Twitter: SteveSolloway