With leaders like Cole Paulin, Thornton Academy is setting its sights on another state championship. Just don’t tell the Golden Trojans that they’re defending last year’s title. (ED DEXTER PHOTOGRAPHY)

Thornton Academy’s Cole Paulin enters the 2019 high school football season the same way he does each game: with a chip on his shoulder. 

The biggest change the senior captain sees in himself now compared to three years ago is that this group of Golden Trojans, the defending Class A State Champions, is his to march onto the gridiron. 

“I expect to be not only a leader on the field but the vocal leader — the guy who hypes everybody up, after a big play, running on the field — that’s the kind of guy I want to be,” Paulin said. “I hope that I get every pregame speech, every halftime speech, every postgame speech. I want it all.” 

On the first day of camp, the 6-foot, 210-pound middle linebacker practiced what he preached. Even toward the end of a grueling session in the humidity of a Maine summer morning, Paulin raced to be first in line after each drill rotation. Former Trojans showed him the right way to play, he said, and now it’s his turn to teach the next generation how things are done in Saco. 

Thornton Academy head coach Kevin Kezal will lean on Paulin to serve as the ringleader of a defensive unit that lost All-SMAA First Team players Tommy Palmer, Ethan Logan, Ean Patry and Athan Gikas and second-teamers Eli Arsenal and Grant Dow. 

That’s a lot of talent gone from Hill Stadium — Thornton lost 22 players in all to graduation — but Kezal knows the right man to rally the next wave of Trojans wears No. 41. 

Paulin, a self-proclaimed football junkie, spends between five to eight hours a week studying film. Talking with him for only a few minutes reveals his knowledge of the game.

When I’m out there, he said, I’m not just following the running back and tackling him. There’s so much more that goes into playing linebacker. When a play, or two, is called in from the sideline, Paulin is responsible for coordinating the coverage with the other 10 Trojans on the field. Before the snap, he scans the opposition in search of any clue that might tip his opponent’s hand. 

That’s where the hours spent in film sessions pay off, because “every lineman is different.” He studies the guards. Where are their feet placed? How much weight is being applied to their hands? It’s technical, Paulin said, and he cracked a smile. 

“You’ve really got to understand the game to do what he does,” Kezal said. “He’s a good one.” 

Paulin knows that decades from now, he won’t be playing football. The game can only get you so far, he said, and he’s excited to explore his off-field interests — math and the sciences — in college. He credits his love of academics to his parents, Mark and Meesha, who sat on the floor with him as a child, teaching arithmetic and cursive. Paulin also knows that his final year in maroon and gold is one that he won’t take for granted. While he plans to play football at the next level, it’ll be different. He won’t know the city or the parents in the stands. 

As he speaks on the future he pauses for several seconds, looks toward the sky and expresses how fortunate he is to have been a part of the Golden Trojans’ tradition. 

“It’s crazy, 20 years down the line I can tell someone that I played football for Thornton Academy (and) I won a state championship,” he said. “No matter where you go … you run into alumni everywhere. This whole town rallies around football. I wouldn’t want to play for any other town.” 

But college can wait. There’s a state championship to win, and don’t tell Thornton that it’s defending anything, because the Trojans have already turned the page onto the next chapter. 

“We’re not out here to prove that we’re still on top,” Paulin said. “It’s a new league … there’s a lot of competition. We’re just trying to pound it into the younger guys’ heads that nothing just happens. Just because we won last year doesn’t mean anything’s a given … We don’t expect to come out with a losing season. We don’t expect anything less than winning State … It’s just been ingrained that we want to win. We want to be champions.”

 

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