New Bangor High School football coach Dave Morris watches his players during the first day of preseason at the high school practice field on Monday. Credit: John Holyoke

BANGOR, Maine — As the start of preseason practices for fall sports spread to high schools across the state Monday, physical conditioning was among the top priorities.

But don’t underestimate a more subtle form of preparation for the coming regular season, particularly among programs that have struggled to realize success in recent years.

At Bangor High School, the varsity football team is in search of its first victory since a playoff win against Edward Little of Auburn in 2015 — a span of 17 games and two winless campaigns.

All the physical skill in the world may not get the team over the top if not complemented by a heavy dose of confidence.

“If you just take one day at a time and be committed to what you’re doing, good things can happen,” new Bangor football head coach Dave Morris said of his opening-day message to the Rams.

Morris also emphasized those basics throughout his team’s summer workouts, basics he’s emphasized with great success as a baseball coach in the Queen City.

Morris has helped Bangor High School win a state-record five consecutive Class A state championships on the diamond, three as an assistant to Jeff Fahey and the past two years as head coach. Similar achievement has come in the American Legion ranks, with Morris guiding the Coffee News Comrades to three state championships in the past five years.

His baseball teams have known his message as “the grind.” In football, Morris said one key to relishing that grind will be to persevere through the inevitable challenges.

“It’s about making the commitment, because you can’t get better at anything if you’re not committed,” Morris said before his football team’s second practice of the day. “A great majority of the guys are all the way committed, but at the same time we’re dealing with some things that winning helps, and when you haven’t won things that come into your path sometimes can be a deterrent because there’s no precedent for what (the commitment) is going to give you.

“In a lot of ways I’m spoiled because in baseball we haven’t had to deal with that kind of foundational issue, but for that 1 percent that face it, it’s how you deliver the message as a coach.”

Morris believes small measures of football success already were achieved before formal practices started.

“We’ve had a good summer, and that’s really where it starts, teaching kids to make a commitment and that you’re going to have to sacrifice some things,” he said. “But as far as where they started to where they are today, we’re pleased. We’ve added four more guys in the last two days so we’re almost up to 60 (players) now.”

While the numbers are improving Morris — a veteran of 12 years as a subvarsity football coach, the past two as Bangor’s eighth-grade head coach — says the continuing recruiting effort must be balanced with team chemistry.

“There’s definitely some guys that could be playing this game in the school,” he said. “But at the same time you can’t dwell on that. The guys who are here have made the commitment to play. They’re the right guys.

“The kids we’ve added this year who have never played, their hearts are into it. I tell them if your hearts are into it, play, and if they aren’t, don’t, because that’s not going to be good for you or for anyone else.”

Bangor is scheduled to participate in a round-robin scrimmage Saturday at Lawrence of Fairfield with the host Bulldogs and Lewiston.

The Rams visit Brewer for an exhibition game Friday, Aug. 24, before opening the regular season the following Friday night at Edward Little in Auburn.

“If we just take it one day at a time and try to be the best team we can be each day, growth is going to happen,” Morris said. “It might not be growing as fast as we want it to. We might not have guys who can run the 40 in 4.4 (seconds) or throw the football the way we want to throw it, but the growth is going to happen.”

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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...