A quarterback and two running backs will be at the head table with a chance to win the 45th James J. Fitzpatrick Trophy next month in Portland.

Will Bessey of Brunswick, Joe Esposito of Portland and Austin McCrum of Thornton Academy were named finalists for the trophy, which is awarded to the top senior high school football player in the state.

They emerged as the top three vote getters from a field of 12 candidates selected by the Fitzpatrick committee. The state’s high school football coaches and media who cover the sport on a regular basis vote for the award.

The names of the finalists were given to the Maine Sunday Telegram by Jack Dawson, general chairman of the Fitzpatrick Trophy committee.

The winner will be announced Jan. 24 at the annual banquet, which begins at noon.

All three players were named to the Maine Sunday Telegram All-State team. Esposito, a running back/linebacker, was the Telegram’s Player of the Year.


Bessey, a running back/defensive back, rushed for 1,569 yards and 20 touchdowns in leading the Dragons to a second straight regional title. Because of a pulled hamstring suffered the week before in the Class B North final, Bessey carried the ball only once in the state final, a 21-14 loss to Marshwood.

“I’m very excited to be a finalist,” said Bessey. “It’s an honor to be selected and to be respected by people who feel you are deserving of this award.”

Bessey said he learned a lot playing against and observing the previous two winners, Ben Lucas of Cony and Brett Gerry of Marshwood.

“This has been a dream of mine since I was in middle school,” said Bessey. “I’ve always looked up to the guys who have won. I played against Ben Lucas as a sophomore. He was a very impressive player. Just playing against Brett Gerry, I saw how powerful he was and how hard he worked. That motivated me.”

Bessey said he recently decided to attend Bates College where he plans to play football.

“I’ve visited Bates four times and really enjoyed the campus. I know Bates will be a good fit,” he said.


Esposito, who led the Bulldogs to the Class A North title, rushed for 1,606 yards and scored 28 touchdowns. As a linebacker, he led Class A North with 95 tackles. He was selected as Class A North Player of the Year.

“It’s a honor to have my name up there with all the other players who are nominated,” said Esposito. “It’s a great accomplishment for me and my football career.”

Esposito said he didn’t know much about the Fitzpatrick Trophy until his cousin, Justin Zukowski, was a finalist two years ago. Esposito learned a lot playing alongside his cousin as a sophomore.

“Justin is hard-working and he loved to play football. We’re both hustlers. I’ve tried to model my game after his. Justin texted me Saturday morning congratulating me on being a finalist,” he said.

Esposito said if he should win, he’ll get some family bragging rights.

Zukowski is a sophomore at Bates, where he plays basketball. Esposito is considering Bates, but had a visit last week from the new UMaine coach, Joe Harasymiak.

McCrum quarterbacked the Golden Trojans to a second straight Class A title. The 6-foot-4 standout, who will attend Lafayette College on a scholarship, passed for 20 touchdowns and 1,956 yards. He added 358 yards rushing and four touchdowns on the ground. He was named the Class A South Player of the Year.

“Austin has had a great career for us,” said Thornton Academy Coach Kevin Kezal. “No matter if you consider the Fitzpatrick Trophy a seasonal award or a career award, Austin has done a phenomenal job for us. We won back-to-back state championships and he has had great statistics while providing outstanding leadership. Being one of the semifinalists is a tremendous honor and this adds to it.”

The trophy is named after the legendary Portland High coach and Boston College athlete. Fitzpatrick was a teacher-coach at Portland High in the first half of the 20th century and before that a star at Boston College. The Fitzpatrick Trophy has been awarded annually since 1971.

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