Caden McDuffie of Cape Elizabeth High holds the James J. Fitzpatrick Trophy with Capers Coach Sean Green on Sunday at Holiday Inn by the Bay in Portland. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Caden McDuffie did not grow up in Maine. He moved to Cape Elizabeth from Las Vegas midway through his sophomore year of high school. But the quarterback of Cape Elizabeth High’s first state championship football team absolutely knew of the lore and significance of the James J. Fitzpatrick Trophy.

“My dad and uncles grew up here in Maine, and growing up they always talked about the Fitzpatrick Trophy. ‘Hey, you never know, we might move back and win the Fitzpatrick Trophy.’ It was a joke growing up,” McDuffie said.

On Sunday there was no joking, just appreciation when McDuffie was named the 50th winner of the James J. Fitzpatrick Trophy at a banquet at Holiday Inn by the Bay in Portland.

McDuffie is the first player from Cape Elizabeth to be a finalist for the Fitzpatrick Trophy, awarded to Maine’s top senior in high school football.

“I knew what the Fitzpatrick Trophy meant. It meant you were the cream of the crop. That’s what you want to shoot to win if you’re a senior,” McDuffie said. “When I moved here, I just wanted a ring. I just wanted to bring Cape Elizabeth its first ring, and whatever comes with that follows, and my teammates really made it easy for me.”

McDuffie, who threw five touchdown passes and ran for two more in the Class C championship game against Winslow, was honored in December as the Varsity Maine Player of the Year. He rushed for a team-high 1,011 yards and 19 touchdowns, set a school record for total offense (2,417 yards) and completed 68 of 123 passes for 1,406 yards with 26 touchdowns and only three interceptions.


His father, Jim McDuffie, was the quarterback coach on Coach Sean Green’s staff, which included McDuffie’s uncle, Jon St. Pierre. Another uncle, Paul St. Pierre, is Freeport High’s head coach.

The other finalists were two-way lineman Thomas Horton of Bonny Eagle and quarterback Will Ledbetter of Windham. McDuffie and Ledbetter worked out together often in Green’s Red Zone Academy training program. Ledbetter and Horton were teammates in the Bonny Eagle youth program, with Ledbetter at QB and Horton his center from grades 3-8. Ledbetter eventually moved to Windham, where his father, Donny Ledbetter, has been an assistant coach since 2007.

“I wouldn’t have (wanted to) share the stage with two other kids,” McDuffie said. “I know them very well. We’re good friends. This whole senior class, if they were top-notch players, we all know each other and hit the field together, because a lot of us are going to play college ball.”

Finalist Will Ledbetter of Windham High speaks at the James J. Fitzpatrick Trophy ceremony at Holiday Inn by the Bay on Sunday. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

The winner was selected from votes cast by coaches and media members. The trophy has been awarded annually since the 1971 season, with the exception of last year when there was no tackle football season because of the pandemic.

Ledbetter led Windham to the Class B North championship. He completed 114 of 154 attempts for an impressive 74 percent completion rate, throwing 20 touchdowns against two interceptions. In the classroom, Ledbetter carries a weighted grade-point average over 100, with a course-load full of advanced placement and honors courses. Coach Matt Perkins said, “in my 24 years (as a coach), Will is the most complete person, the most well-rounded and humble athlete we’ve had at Windham.”

“I don’t think anyone expects to be regarded in such high honor when you start the season,” Ledbetter said. “You just want to go in and give your team and your community all your effort. All you have. With hopes of bringing home the state title. That’s everyone’s big goal.”


The 6-foot, 260-pound Horton was named the Frank J. Gaziano Offensive Lineman Award winner in January. He recorded 42 knockdown blocks and did not allow a sack on offense. On defense, Horton averaged 7.2 tackles per game and had 13 tackles for a loss as a nose guard despite constant double-teaming. Horton was the first lineman to be a finalist since Stefan Starks of Thornton Academy in 2001. Gerry Raymond of Lewiston in 1977 is the only lineman to win the award.

Fitzpatrick Trophy finalist Thomas Horton of Bonny Eagle will continue his football career at the University of Maine. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Each finalist gives a short speech. In his, Horton said he believes “Maine football is special, a tight community, founded on hard work and storytelling.” He said he was honored to add his being a finalist to the “list of stories.”

“I’m disappointed I didn’t win, but I’m not devastated,” Horton said. “I’m really happy with what I’ve been able to accomplish and just being up there is a huge accomplishment. It was an amazing experience.”

Each of the finalists intends to play college football.

Horton will attend the University of Maine as a preferred walk-on, meaning he’s assured of a roster spot. Ledbetter recently announced his intention to play at the University of New England, an NCAA Division III program in Biddeford. McDuffie will be heading to Louisiana Christian University, an NAIA school in Pineville, Louisiana.

“When I went down there for a visit, I instantly loved the school. It’s a nice campus, a small-town environment, but on the outskirts of Alexandria, Louisiana, so you have a big city with about 200,000 people right there,” McDuffie said. “The coaches were great. The head coach is a military guy, so being a military kid growing up, I kind of liked that.”

The Fitzpatrick Trophy banquet is usually held in mid-January, but it was postponed this year because a surge of COVID-19 cases across the state.

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