Identical twins Tristram, left, and Connor Coffin placed fourth and 12th at last year’s Class A state meet, helping the Red Storm win the team championship. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

SCARBOROUGH — Growing up as identical twins, Tristram and Connor Coffin have always been close.

Last week, they got too close.

While playing soccer in gym class at Scarborough High School, Tristram tried to steal the ball from Connor and instead stepped on the back of his brother’s ankle.

The result? A foot contusion. Basically, a bad bruise. For the first meet of their senior season of cross country, Tristram wore racing spikes while Connor sported a gray plastic boot on his right foot.

It’s not the first time a Coffin has been a scratch. A hip problem caused Connor to miss nearly all of last October, but he came back for one race and finished 12th in the state meet at Belfast to help the Red Storm win the Class A title for the ninth time in 15 years.

In previous years he missed meets because of knee pain (as a freshman) and Achilles tendinitis (as a sophomore). Tristram, who played soccer as a freshman, dealt with an IT band injury early in his high school career. More recently, he missed a week of training because of an abnormally high fever.

“They’ve both battled a lot of injuries and illnesses over the years,” Scarborough coach Jim Harmon said. “I think I might have more gray hairs from them than from my own kids.”

Connor Coffin, now a senior captain at Scarborough High, finished fourth at the Class A state meet as a sophomore. File photo/The Forecaster

The Coffins are senior captains for one of the deepest teams Harmon has coached in his 22 years leading the program. Should they remain healthy, the Red Storm will boast four runners who finished among the top 20 in Class A. Tristram was fourth, sophomore Zach Barry 16th and junior Erik LoSacco 18th to go along with Connor’s 12th.

For the fifth and final scoring runner, there are 28 other boys on the roster, more than a half dozen of whom joined the aforementioned quartet for morning runs six days a week throughout the summer.

“They work hard,” Harmon said. “I always tell the kids, the better you are, the harder you work, the more susceptible you are to injuries because you’re right on the edge.”

Having learned to overcome adversity and deal with aches and pains (and understand when to take a break), the Coffin brothers are perfectly positioned to lead the team, in Harmon’s view. Neither is loud or outgoing, but they’re talented and tough and resilient.

“Other kids look up to them,” Harmon said. “They are funny and they keep bouncing back. They don’t give up. And perseverance, as we know, is probably the most important thing for success in anything, whether in academics or sports or career.”

At 5-foot-10 and 130 pounds, Tristram is an inch taller and about five pounds heavier. He arrived on the scene first, two minutes ahead of Connor in a hospital in Tucson, Arizona. Their mom, Julie, hails from Wisconsin and their dad, Brett, from Scarborough. The family moved back to Maine when the boys were 2.

Brett teaches history and psychology at Scarborough High. Julie teaches first grade at East End Community School in Portland.

Scarborough senior Tristram Coffin is an inch taller and about five pounds heavier than his identical twin, Connor. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

The boys played soccer and ran summer track while growing up. As they prepared to enter high school, both signed up for soccer, but Connor, who in eighth grade discovered he needed to switch to a gluten-free diet, had a late change of heart and opted for cross country.

“Just a gut feeling,” he said. “I don’t know why.”

He made an immediate impact on varsity and, with the help of kinesiology tape to alleviate knee pain, made it through the season. At the regional and state meets, he finished second for Scarborough, just behind senior Shamus Malia.

Sophomore year, Tristram joined his brother on the trails rather than ride the bench in soccer.

“The first race, I think I matched his freshman PR time,” Tristram said. “I could tell I was going to have a good season.”

Connor finished fourth in Class A that fall and Tristram eighth as Scarborough wound up second to defending state champion Falmouth. Two weeks later, they were the sixth and seventh Maine finishers at the New England meet.

A year ago, Connor placed eighth at the Southern Maine Classic in Gorham in a time (16:00.00) barely ahead of Tristram (16:06.49) that remains the family standard. Tristram twice more broke 16:07 at Belfast, but has yet to break 16:06.

If both are healthy, they usually run side-by-side, often prompting spectators to do the same double-take as shoppers at the Scarborough Hannaford market where both brothers bag groceries throughout the summer.

If opposing runners feel like two against one is an unfair advantage for the Coffins, so be it.

“It helps so much,” Tristram said of having his brother beside him during a race. “Just the competitiveness between each other helps a lot.”

As seniors, they have begun exploring colleges. So far, Fairfield and the University of New Hampshire are at the top of their lists. They would like to continue running competitively and are not wedded to the notion of attending the same school.

Wherever they end up, they know the path will rarely be smooth and easy. Cross country taught them that.

“Just knowing that there are going to be obstacles,” Connor said, “you have to overcome them.”

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