Keith Noel is well aware of the challenge ahead of him as Kennebunk High’s new varsity football coach.

Noel, 40, a Kennebunk native, is replacing Joe Rafferty who retired in February after leading the Rams’ program from 1979 until 2022, a span of 44 seasons. Noel played for Rafferty and graduated from Kennebunk High in 2001. After 12 seasons of coaching in Sanford, he was on Rafferty’s staff for five seasons, the past three as defensive coordinator.

“You’re being the guy who is replacing ‘The Guy,’ ” Noel said. “So there is some pressure there obviously but living in the town my entire life I know the expectations Raff has put on the program and I’m excited to push them forward.

“Obviously I don’t plan on being there 44 years like he was but I do plan on being there for the duration.”

Noel was chosen by a search committee and officially took over the program on March 23.

“The first thing I did was I met with the kids and showed my excitement and set some expectations,” Noel said. “I’m working on getting a (coaching) staff together and getting the weight room going. A lot of beginning-of-the-season stuff.”


Noel, married with two elementary school-age children, is a physical education teacher at The Middle School of the Kennebunks and is in his second year as the middle school athletic director.

Kennebunk High Athletic Director Joe Schwartzman said he could tell Noel was ready for a head coaching job last season while watching him direct Kennebunk’s defense. Kennebunk played its home games at Waterhouse Field in Biddeford last fall while its new athletic complex was being built.

“I was on the sidelines at Waterhouse and it’s pretty tight quarters there and you could just see his passion,” Schwartzman said. “He knows so much. He’s well prepared. The kids love him and you can see they play hard for him and want to play hard for him.”

Rafferty said he was not involved in the process of hiring his replacement but believes Noel is a good choice.

“He has a great deal of football knowledge for one and I think that he has a lot of energy and we know coaching takes a lot of energy,” Rafferty said. “But I think most importantly Keith cares very deeply about the kids. He’s a teacher first. That teaching piece bodes well for us.

“He has a very similar philosophy to my own. I think he’ll always put the interest of the kids first and I think that’s very, very important.”


Noel got his coaching start in his first year after graduating from Plymouth State College, where he played football for one year. As a new hire in the Sanford school district, he worked with the eighth-grade team for one season, the freshman team the next year, and then spent 10 seasons on Mike Fallon’s staff at Sanford High.

When Fallon took a one-year leave of absence in 2014, Noel served as Sanford’s interim head coach. Sanford went 4-4 in Class A South to finish fifth, then lost a quarterfinal game at Scarborough, 42-35.

“I’m super excited for Keith,” Fallon said. “He’s absolutely passionate about coaching kids and football and a really good educator. Make no mistakes, he has tough shoes to fill – Coach Rafferty is legendary – but I think Keith is the perfect choice to lead that program.”

Noel said he was very happy working and coaching in Sanford but when a teaching position opened in Kennebunk he pursued it with gusto. He was hired in 2018.

Noel said he intends to emphasize forging strong relationships with his players that extend beyond the practice and game field.

“Raff made everyone feel important. You could be the starting quarterback or the fifth-string kicker and he would make sure he reached out to each kid,” Noel said. “I learned that from Mike (Fallon) when I first started and Raff reiterated that. It means more than the game, for kids to know you have their backs. That’s something I definitely want to keep going.”

Kennebunk football will be playing at a refurbished field this fall, which includes artificial turf, new bleachers and improved lighting. The Rams will continue to play in Class B, where they have been classified since 2013. Kennebunk was 71-25 in Rafferty’s final nine seasons, winning South regional titles in 2013 and 2016 and playing in the South final in 2018 and 2019.

Noel said he expects to have about 40 players from the sophomore through senior classes, and more than 20 incoming freshmen.

“The kids are excited. Last year we were watching it get built every day in practice and it’s definitely brought some excitement to the program. Even to people I’ve bumped into in town, there’s a newfound excitement,” Noel said. “We’ve always drawn well anyways but I think that could be a boost.”

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