SACO — Austin McCrum and Owen Elliott remember going toe-to-toe in tackling drills as youth football players.

On Wednesday, the Thornton Academy seniors stood side-by-side with matching grins as they soaked in another football milestone: signing a letter of intent to play Division I college football.

“I feel like we’ve always pushed each other to be the best we could be,” Elliott said.

McCrum, a 6-foot-4 quarterback, accepted a full scholarship with Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania. Elliott, a 6-foot, 210-pound linebacker/fullback, is one of the 13 recruits at the University of Maine.

The signing ceremonies in the school’s atrium lobby was attended by more than 100 family, friends and media members. Earlier in the morning, Thornton senior Lexi Nason signed to play soccer at Division II Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts. As a goalie, she set school records for wins (34) and shutouts (25).

The letter of intent is a binding agreement between a prospective student-athlete and a Division I or II school. The athlete agrees to attend as a full-time student and the school agrees to provide athletic financial aid for one academic year.

Wednesday was the first day in the signing period for football, and men’s and women’s soccer.

Zach Mitchell of Marshwood High also will play Division I football. Mitchell, an offensive lineman and linebacker, committed to play at Wagner College in Staten Island, New York.

Three other southern Maine athletes signed to play Division II soccer: Cady Houghton of Gorham is joining the women’s team at Adelphi University in Garden City, New York; Brady Levesque of Cheverus committed to the men’s team at Bentley University in Waltham, Massachusetts; and Tyler Spence of Falmouth will play women’s soccer at Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania.

McCrum and Elliott began playing football together in the second grade with the Saco Junior Trojans.

“Throughout the years, if they needed somebody to demonstrate a drill, they set us up against each other to set the tempo,” Elliott said.

“I remember one time we were doing a tackling drill and the linemen weren’t really getting after it, so they called us over from the skill positions,” McCrum said. “For 10 minutes we just drilled each other. We set the tempo.”

Both McCrum and Elliott were three-year starters at Thornton, and instrumental to back-to-back Class A titles in 2014 and 2015.

But their path to an athletic scholarship was not the same.

McCrum threw for 292 yards and three touchdowns in his first start as a sophomore.

“From that day we knew how special he could be,” Thornton Coach Kevin Kezal said, adding he and his staff were sure “early on” McCrum had the stature, smarts and athletic ability to attract college coaches.

McCrum was an all-state player as a junior and senior, throwing for more than 5,000 yards and 49 touchdowns with a 27-5 record in three seasons as the starter.

As a senior he passed for 1,956 yards and 20 touchdowns, and rushed for 358 yards and four scores.

McCrum said Lafayette’s coaching staff told him he would have a chance to compete right away for the starting job. McCrum was recruited by offensive coordinator/quarterback coach Mickey Fein, a four-year starting quarterback at UMaine (1995-98). Lafayette competes in the Patriot League.

McCrum also had offers from Old Dominion and Maine. McCrum, a National Honor Society member with a 3.71 grade-point average, said he was looking to choose the college “with the best academics with a high level of football.”

Elliott was an all-SMAA linebacker for three years but rarely touched the ball on offense as a blocking back and short-yardage specialist. He labored in “relative obscurity” for the Golden Trojans, Kezal said, impressing his coaches and teammates but rarely drawing media or recruiting attention.

Last summer, at the first day of a football camp at Boston College, Elliott ran the 40-yard dash in 4.59 seconds.

“We talk about seizing the moment,” Kezal said. “Owen seized his moment that day. That was the fastest in the whole camp, with nearly 800 kids.”

Maine quickly began recruiting Elliott. The Black Bears made a scholarship offer last week.

In an interview posted to Twitter, UMaine assistant coach Michael Ryan said Elliott projects as an outside linebacker who will move to inside linebacker as he adds weight and strength.

“We’re real excited,” Ryan said. “Everything we’ve heard in the recruiting process is he’s a hard worker, likes to grind, works in the weight room and gets after it.”

“I just believe in hard work, and if I’m given the opportunity I’m going to work as hard as I can,” Elliott said.

“With Owen, if he puts his mind to something he’ll be relentless, to the point where he’s not going to give up until something happens,” McCrum said. “I was getting pretty frustrated for him because I think he’s been underrated by so many college coaches, and when he finally got the opportunity I was so happy.”

As a senior, Nason received all-state honors from the Maine Sunday Telegram and Maine Soccer Coaches Association.

Nason is a third-generation Thornton grad. Her father, Scott Nason, was Thornton Academy’s first varsity girls’ soccer coach. Her mother, Kris Nason, is in the school’s athletic hall of fame for her track and field accomplishments.

“When I was little my dad would always bring me to games and practices,” Lexi Nason said. “Half of my baby pictures, I’m in a little onesie that says TA girls soccer.”

Nason plans to be a pre-med major at Assumption, where she will be receiving a combined academic and athletic scholarship.

“They have a great program to start you out with lots of great (medical) connections,” Nason said. “And I just loved the coaches’ competive nature. That team is very competitive and works hard, and it’s something I’m very much looking forward to.”

Steve Craig can be reached at 791-6413 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: SteveCCraig

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