Early in the season, Portland was having problems with its long snaps. Joe Esposito, the team’s star player, volunteered to help out.

“Joe learned how to snap and was ready if we needed him. He is the type of player who will do anything you want unselfishly,” said Coach Jim Hartman.

At the start of the year, Esposito was asked to play fullback instead of tailback.

“That would have been a problem with a lot of players, but not Joe. He’s a very humble kid,” said Hartman.

Esposito returned to tailback midway through the fifth game of the year when George Chaison-Lapine, the regular tailback, was injured. Esposito stayed there the rest of the season and churned out big yardage as the Bulldogs advanced to the Class A state championship game.

Esposito was a force on offense and defense and as Hartman said, “the heart of our team.” He broke several runs for long touchdowns and would get extra yards by breaking tackles and never giving up. He was in the middle of the defense at linebacker and made sure his teammates were in the right spots.

“Everything revolved around Joe,” said Hartman.

Esposito is the Maine Sunday Telegram’s player of the year in football. Last week, Esposito was also named Maine’s Gatorade player of the year. At the end of the regular season, he was named the Class A North’s player of the year.

Esposito carried the ball 222 times for 1,606 yards (7.2 yards per carry) and scored 24 touchdowns rushing. He added four touchdowns on pass receptions.

He also finished with 126 tackles, two interceptions, three sacks and a fumble recovery.

“Our team stayed close all year and it was great that we got to play in a state championship game,” said Esposito. “It’s something we can be proud of. Only a certain amount of teams make it to the state championship (game). Portland hadn’t been to one in 13 years.”

Portland lost to Thornton Academy 24-14 on Nov. 21.

“We stayed close in that game and made a comeback. I think people saw us differently after that game,” he said.

Esposito rarely left the field. The football season started in the middle of August and didn’t end until the Thanksgiving Day game with Deering. It was a long year but Esposito stayed focused and injury free.

“Realizing that this could be my last season of football helped keep me focused. Winning makes everything more fun. I tried to do things so I wouldn’t get hurt and our trainers do a good job of keeping us healthy,” he said.

Esposito started playing football in the second grade when his uncle Todd Zukowsky was the coach and his cousin Justin Zukowsky, who is two years older, was on the team.

As a sophomore, Esposito played alongside his cousin, who has been a mentor.

“He showed me the importance of playing hard on every play and playing sideline to sideline,” said Esposito.

During his sophomore year, Esposito was almost put at guard because the team had an injury. He played center on the freshmen team briefly. The switch to running back worked out well for Esposito and the team.

Esposito carries a 96 GPA in school. His favorite subject is math.

“I try hard in class. I’m not a slacker,” he said.

Esposito said he has applied to Bates College, Springfield College, the University of Rhode Island, Maine and Rutgers.

His football days may not be over. If he goes to Bates or Springfield, he would like to play football. He also said he might try to walk on at Maine or Rhode Island.

Sunday Telegram All-State Team

Offense

Austin McCrum, Thornton Academy, senior quarterback: McCrum, a repeat All-State selection, led the Golden Trojans to a second straight Class A state title, passing for 1,956 yards and 20 touchdowns, and rushing for 358 yards and four touchdowns. He was named the Class A South player of the year. McCrum will play football at Lafayette College.

Connor Aube, Falmouth, senior running back: Aube led the Yachtsmen to the Class B South final. He rushed for 1,059 yards and 17 touchdowns, averaging 7.1 yards per carry, and had 409 yards receiving with three touchdowns. Over the last two seasons, he has rushed for 2,396 yards and has scored 53 touchdowns.

Will Bessey, Brunswick, senior running back: Bessey, an All-State pick for the second year in a row, was a versatile runner who gained 1,569 yards and scored 20 touchdowns. He added 171 yards receiving with three touchdowns, and also passed for two touchdowns and returned an interception for a touchdown. He was named the Class B Pine Tree Conference player of the year.

Dane Johnson, Bangor, senior running back: Johnson led Class A North in rushing with 1,353 yards and rushed for 13 touchdowns. He led the league in total carries each of the last two years, and finished his career with more than 3,000 yards rushing.

Zach Doyon, Marshwood, senior running back: Doyon got his chance to run the ball this season after limited carries as a junior and delivered in a big way for the repeat Class B state champions. He rushed for 1,895 yards on 194 carries and scored 22 touchdowns, and caught 16 passes for 257 yards and seven touchdowns.

Andre Miller, Old Town, senior wide receiver: The 6-foot-3, 180-pound Miller caught 35 passes for 728 yards and 11 touchdowns. In two playoff games he had 13 receptions for 337 yards and five touchdowns. He also carried the ball 22 times for 385 yards and five touchdowns, and had 11 kickoff returns for 263 yards and one touchdown. Miller is being recruited by UMaine.

Frank Curran, Cheverus, senior tackle: Curran was a dominant blocker. When the Stags needed crucial yardage, they ran behind Curran. He was chosen as lineman of the year in Class A North, and was also a standout on defense.

Josh Goddard, Brunswick, senior tackle: Goddard was a two-year starter. The team consistently ran the ball behind Goddard in the Class B state championship game against Marshwood. He was skilled in all types of blocks.

Zach Mitchell, Marshwood, senior guard: The Hawks moved Mitchell from tackle to guard to take advantage of his speed in the wing-T offense. As a pulling guard, Mitchell was the leader of an offensive line that helped the Hawks average 300 yards rushing. He was also a standout linebacker and led the Hawks in tackles the last two seasons.

Andrew Cilea, Brunswick, senior guard: Cilea has the speed of a running back at the guard position. He used that speed, along with toughness and strength, to open holes for his running backs and to provide pass protection.

Dalton Therrien, Oak Hill, senior utility: Therrien passed for 1,540 yards and 18 touchdowns, and ran for 1,053 yards and another 18 touchdowns. He was named the Campbell Conference Class D player of the year after leading Oak Hill to a third straight state title.

Defense

Rome Pura, Thornton Academy, junior defensive end: Pura was a disruptive force for opposing offenses. He had 87 tackles and 51/2 sacks for the Class A state champs. He was also used as a linebacker in passing situations. As a punter, he averaged 35.1 yards.

Joe Fusco, Portland, senior defensive end: Fusco was positioned as the strong side defensive end, which often forced the offense to run the other way. He finished the season with 64 tackles, five sacks and three fumble recoveries.

Elijah Ayotte, Thornton Academy, senior defensive tackle: Ayotte has been a first team all-SMAA selection three years in a row. He won the Gerry Raymond Award as the top lineman in Class A South. He had 45 tackles and was able to keep offensive linemen off the Golden Trojans linebackers.

Joe Esposito, Portland, senior linebacker: Esposito is the Maine Sunday Telegram player of the year. He led Class A North in tackles with 95. He was adept at recognizing offenses and putting the Bulldogs in the right defense. He was also an outstanding running back, scoring 28 touchdowns while finishing second in rushing in Class A North.

Jack Bernatchez, Messalonskee, senior linebacker: Despite missing two games because of a foot injury, Bernatchez still had 84 tackles. He also played fullback and rushed for 1,100 yards. He was a two-time all-Pine Tree Conference Class B selection.

Alec Clark, Winslow, senior linebacker: Clark, a four-year starter and two-time all-conference selection, was the leader of the stingy Black Raiders’ defense. He had 54 tackles and five sacks. He never missed a game in four years.

Greg Ruff, Thornton Academy, senior defensive back: An outstanding running back, Ruff was just as impressive on defense. As a safety he made 71 tackles and had two interceptions. He was responsible for putting the Golden Trojans’ secondary in the right coverage. He rushed for 1,420 yards and scored 19 touchdowns.

Reid Shostak, Cony, senior defensive back: Shostak, a two-time All-State selection, was moved to defensive back from linebacker, and had 88 tackles, two interceptions and four pass breakups despite missing two games.

Ben Lambert, Thornton Academy, senior defensive back: Lambert had an outstanding season on offense, defense and special teams. He was the Golden Trojans’ best coverage man and had six pass interceptions. He returned a punt 71 yards for a touchdown in the Class A state final against Portland.

Jacob Trask, Winslow, senior defensive back: Trask was a three-year starter and had five interceptions this fall for the Class C state champions. He also played quarterback and ran for 11 touchdowns.

Seth Powers, Lawrence, senior utility: Powers, a two-time all-Pine Tree Conference selection, played cornerback and was the team’s punter. On offense, he started the year at wide receiver, then moved to running back, catching 30 passes for 456 yards and four touchdowns, and carrying the ball 17 times for 270 yards.

Coach of the Year

Stacen Doucette, Oak Hill: Doucette guided the Raiders to a third straight Class D state championship.