Jeremy Shorey hefted the large box wrapped in Christmas paper. Santa was already generous last December but here was another present. Shorey looked at his wife. She offered no clues.

Off came the ribbon and bow. Off came the wrapping. Shorey opened the box, blinked and felt the excitement of a boy.

Santa had left new football shoulder pads for the 32-year-old quarterback who had been grounded. All Shorey knew was the thrill of playing three sports exceedingly well at Lisbon High. He had pitched in the Seattle Mariners’ minor league system. He had come home to Maine a couple of years later to play football at Husson University. He’s an athlete.

Shorey looked at his wife again. Does this mean I can play?

Jeremy Shorey will run onto the turf at Thornton Academy’s Hill Stadium with his Maine Sabers teammates for their start in the New England Football League playoffs Saturday. His team was 10-0 in the regular season. More importantly he’s back with the men who simply can’t walk away from the game they love most.

They are called semipro players but are paid nothing, risking their health and maybe the jobs that pay the bills, put food on the table and a roof over a family’s heads. That was one reason Crystal Shorey looked at her husband two years ago and said enough.

“She was afraid I’d get hurt,” said Shorey, who understood. Their first child, Jeremy Jr., was born 14 months ago. Dad was past his 30th birthday. Wasn’t it time to stop playing games?

Shorey stopped playing football last year. He was miserable. He admits he pouted. He reminded his wife, who happens to be the reigning Mrs. Maine/USA, that he supported her through her beauty pageants.

He really shouldn’t have pressed the issue. Crystal Martin was a top basketball player from Calais High up at the Canadian border who met her husband when they were both at Husson. She’s competitive, too, and recognized her husband’s plight.

Without a word to Jeremy, she got Santa to deliver the shoulder pads and a new pair of football cleats. Jeremy Shorey had no inkling.

There are dozens like him in southern Maine playing for the Sabers or the Raging Bulls (9-2), who beat the North Shore Generals 45-30 in the opening weekend of the playoffs while the Sabers drew a first-round bye. The Raging Bulls go on the road Saturday night to play the Boston Bandits.

They don’t play for the recognition. Crowds of a few hundred might watch, not the thousands at some Maine high school games or at the University of Maine. No pageantry. The media pays scant attention to 20- and 30-year-old men catching passes and making tackles. Those who sweat and bleed don’t care.

They’re all one step away from a cast or surgery and accept the risk. And for what?

“Just the camaraderie keeps me coming back,” said Shorey, a materials control manager at a Bath Iron Works facility in Brunswick. “It’s a bunch of guys playing for a common goal. That feeling of joy when you successfully execute a play and when you win. There’s no substitute for that.”

His lanky 6-foot-4 frame has been well protected by his offensive line. Kendrick Ballantyne, the former UMaine and Northeastern tight end, is a favorite receiver. So is Travis Barnies, a former teammate at Husson. Chris Libby, the former Biddeford High wide receiver and a year or two older than Shorey, is a target.

Rob Kierstead, who starred at South Portland High and played linebacker at Maine, joined the team as an assistant coach this summer and couldn’t resist the urge to reach for his shoulder pads. Steven Barker, a former UMaine defensive back from New Jersey, has found a home with the Sabers.

Steve Goodrich, the 50-something place-kicker and team owner, sets the tone. He instructed the PA announcer to call him Ron Burgundy after the fictional news anchorman and laughed when the name slipped into brief stories of Sabers victories.

Goodrich hasn’t lost his competitive fire but neither has he misplaced his priorities. Football is a game. Make the effort, play it right and enjoy the company afterward.

Shorey believes this is his last year, although he has posed a question to his wife. “Don’t you think Junior will want to see his father play, just for the memories?”

Shorey will see what Santa leaves this December.

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

[email protected]

Twitter: SteveSolloway


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