Former Bangor High School football coach Gerry Hodge, who guided the Rams to three state Class A championships during an impressive 18-year career, died Thursday after a two-year battle with cancer.

He was 86.

Hodge was a standout football player at Bangor High School before going to the University of Maine, where he played center from 1950-52.

He began his coaching career at the former Mexico High School, going 30-4-2 including two undefeated seasons.

He returned home to take over the job at Bangor, where he compiled a 116-50-6 record.

“It was my dream job. I couldn’t believe it. At 27, I was coaching Bangor High School,” Hodge said in a recent interview with the BDN. He described coaching as a labor of love.

“I enjoyed the kids. And it’s great to feel you got the most out of them. That’s the way coaching is,” Hodge said in April. “I was blessed with [great] assistants like Norris Nickerson, Ron Geaghan, Gabby Price and Steve Vanidestine. They were all great people and very loyal. I was very, very lucky. They could keep me in line.”

Vanidestine, the athletic director at Bangor High, played and coached under Hodge.

“He meant so much to me. He was like a father to me,” said Vanidestine. “I really loved the guy. He was great to me. He helped me in so many ways. He cared so much. He taught (life) lessons to so many of us.”

Vanidestine said the reason he got involved in coaching at Bangor High was to “repay the program because I had gotten so much out of it thanks to coach Hodge. I couldn’t thank him enough for giving me the opportunity.

“I think I speak for a lot of people who consider Gerry Hodge to be the father of Bangor football,” added Vanidestine.

Some of Hodge’s friends have already begun an effort to attach his name to the football field at Cameron Stadium.

Hodge said in April that he would be deeply honored to have his name attached to it, but felt it was more important to continue the upgrading of the facility which eventually calls for the addition of artificial turf.

“I just want them to fix the field and get it back to where it’s at least the best field in eastern Maine,” said Hodge. “I want people to like to come here and play. Now it’s just an ordinary field.”

Maureen Hodge, his loving wife of 40 years, said at the time, “having his name on it may not mean much to him but it does to me. He deserves it.”

Hodge called his wife “my lucky charm” and joked that she knew more about football than he did.

The Hodges had a son, Adam, who lost his life after a five-year battle with leukemia in 1986. He was 8 years old.

“We learned a lot from him. His spirit was unbelievable,” said Maureen Hodge.

Vanidestine said Hodge will be “sorely missed.”