Tanner Bisbee admittedly has divided loyalties in advance of the AFC championship game between the New England Patriots and Jacksonville Jaguars.

The 21-year-old Winterport native, a 2014 Hampden Academy graduate who is now a senior studying sport management at Husson University in Bangor, considers himself a die-hard Patriots fan.

But Bisbee’s recent professional alliances — as a summer intern with the Jaguars who now is heavily involved in that team’s merchandising efforts — means he’ll be donning Jacksonville colors when he watches Sunday’s title game from his seat at Gillette Stadium.

“I’ll be sitting with all the Jaguars staff and wearing my Jaguars gear, but internally there is some turmoil,” said Bisbee, a four-year track and field participant while in high school and more recently a track official during his time at Husson.

“I would say my loyalty has to be split, but I’m going to have one of my two teams in the Super Bowl and that will be amazing.”

Bisbee is not new to football, having worked in a support capacity under Husson head coach Gabby Price for three years.

Bisbee also has capitalized on summer internship opportunities to work for the Florence (Kentucky) Freedom, an independent league baseball team, in 2015 and USA Football in Indianapolis, Indiana, in 2016 before landing an opportunity with the Jacksonville ticket department last May.

When the Jaguars internship ended in August his connections with the team led to an invitation to join Fanatics, an online retailer of licensed sportswear and other gear based in Jacksonville that recently was named Yahoo! Finance 2017 sports business of the year.

“What’s separated Tanner out was that he was willing to go out and build his resume while he was still in school,” said Rich Fabri, assistant professor of sport management at Husson. The university currently boasts 94 full-time students in its sport management degree program, a number that has doubled over the last five years.

“One thing we really try to do is talk about how you differentiate yourself from all the other sport management majors, and that’s through resume building,” Fabri added. “Tanner really took that to heart from day one.”

Bisbee’s current opportunity, which specifically involves the marketing of Jaguars’ merchandise, along with the team’s success in reaching its first AFC title game since 1999 and a five-course online academic regimen from Husson, has made for a busy fall and early winter.

“It basically turned into not only a remarkable season for the Jags but a great professional experience for me,” said Bisbee, who already has been offered a full-time job with Fanatics once he graduates from Husson. He’s taking his final four classes online from Jacksonville.

That career path has made it impossible for Bisbee not to get caught up in the Jaguars’ playoff story, that of a small-market NFL team that just a few years ago was rumored to be moving to Los Angeles but now suddenly is one win away from the Super Bowl.

“I knew absolutely nothing about them before I came here, but from the preseason to now it’s been like night and day,” he said. “I think the Jags won one game in preseason, and by the last preseason game at home the question was whether Blake Bortles was going to be the starting quarterback at the beginning of the year or Chad Henne.

“The city basically had known Bortles to be a party boy and had known the Jaguars to be a loosely run team, but ever since they hired Tom Coughlin there’s been a total culture change.”

Coughlin was the Jaguars’ first head coach from 1995 to 2002 before moving on to coach the New York Giants to Super Bowl victories over the Patriots in 2007 and 2011. He returned to Jacksonville in January 2017 in a front-office role as executive vice president of football operations and, perhaps not coincidentally, the Jaguars went on to win the AFC South in his first year back in northern Florida with a 10-6 record.

The team drew 63,000 fans for its first-round playoff win over Buffalo at home, then outscored Pittsburgh 45-42 last Sunday.

And Jacksonville is now known locally as “Sacksonville” in honor of the Jaguars’ defensive line that has been at the forefront of this playoff run.

“The Jacksonville Jaguars aren’t supposed to still be in the playoffs, but here we are,” said Bisbee. “There’s a definite underdog approach in the city going into the Patriots game, but I think it’s good we’ve taken this approach.”

Notice the use of “we,” Patriots fans.

“My loyalty is definitely mixed,” he said.

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Ernie Clark

Ernie Clark is a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters...