LEWISTON — No matter the level of football, a good passing game requires a lot of moving parts.

At the high school level in Maine, though, players don’t get a lot of time or detailed instruction on how to make those parts work.

Three years ago, some of the state’s top high school football coaches teamed up to correct that, creating the Maine Elite Passing Camp. After two years in Augusta, the day camp has moved to Lewiston, where the new turf fields provide the perfect setting for teaching the finer points of the modern passing game.

Brady Downing of Poland runs through a passing drill during the Maine Elite Passing Camp at Lewiston High on Monday. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

 

About 80 high school football players from 18 high schools paid the $175 registration fee to participate in the camp, which started Monday and runs through Friday.

Sessions are 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., starting on Don Roux Field in the morning with individual and small group drills, such as 1-on-1 passing.

“The kids really like 1-on-1s,” said Cony Coach B.L. Lippert, who runs the camp along with Bonny Eagle Coach Kevin Cooper and Leavitt Coach Mike Hathaway. “You’ve got a quarterback, a receiver and a defensive back, and you get two-and-a-half seconds to throw the ball. They really like the competitiveness of that.”

After two-and-a-half hours, everyone goes inside the school for 90 minutes for lunch, film and “chalk talk” sessions, then they move back outside on the football and adjacent baseball/field hockey field for 90 minutes of 7-on-7 drills.

The camp, which coincides with the start of 7-on-7 passing leagues at various locations, marks the unofficial start of the high school football season for many players, even though preseason doesn’t kick off officially until Aug. 19.

“You can compete out here and get ready for Friday nights, when you have to compete with your team,” said Cony receiver Dakota Andow, who also played defensive back and quarterback as a junior last year. “It makes a big difference. My routes are better when I run them. Catching is better. Timing is better with the quarterback.”

The footing is better, too. Field conditions at Cony’s Alumni Field made the move to Lewiston’s turf field necessary this year.

Lippert, Cooper and Hathaway, who have all coached Fitzpatrick Trophy-winning quarterbacks, started the camp to help Maine high schoolers keep up with the passing explosion that has overtaken football.

Even with the increasing popularity of 7-on-7 summer leagues, they believed players weren’t learning the finer points of quarterback, receiver and defensive back play.

“There’s not as much instruction (in 7-on-7). You’re just trying to get out there and run as many plays as you can and trying to win,” Lippert said. “Here, we can slow down the pace, really coach the minutiae of running a route, of the (quarterback) drops. I mean, Coach Cooper talking about quarterback footwork, it’s incredible. We spend a lot of time focusing on the small stuff that can really make a big difference.”

On Monday, Cooper held a chalk talk session for about 45 minutes on reading defensive coverages that allowed him to go much more in-depth than he could during an entire football season.

“Here, we can spend that time just coaching up some finer points that kids don’t get to hear very often at their home schools,” Cooper said, “because how much can you get into the nitty-gritty when you’ve got a whole team to worry about?”

Players said they like getting outside perspectives on their fundamentals and what it will take for them to get better for the upcoming season.

“You like having coaches from different schools helping you out with mechanics and all of the stuff you need to know,” said Poland wide receiver Levi Lawrence, who will be a senior in the fall.

“You’re also playing against the best talent in Maine,” said Leavitt junior quarterback Wyatt Hathaway, Mike’s son. “You’re obviously going to get a lot better when you’re playing against people that can play at your level.”

Like the upcoming Maine Shrine Lobster Bowl on July 20, the passing camp brings together players from rival schools or schools that don’t compete against each other, and helps bring the Maine high school football community a little closer together.

“You see guys who have come to the camp for a couple of years now, like Wyatt and Andow, who are like long-lost brothers,” Mike Hathaway said. “It’s cool to kind to follow each other (during the season). You’ll watch the highlights and you look for guys who went to camp, and guys are texting each other during the season.”

“Once we get out here,” Wyatt Hathaway added, “we’re all just trying to be better than each other.”

Organizers said the year-old field and adjacent high school already felt like home.

“The turf facility kind of takes weather out of the equation,” Lippert said. “When we go inside here, we can get all of our kids in one room.”

“It’s a little more centrally located, closer to some more high schools, so we’ve drawn a few more kids,” Lippert said.