As the likes of Portland and Oxford Hills of South Paris and defending champion Windham battle for Class A North football supremacy, the Bangor Rams have more modest — though no less important — goals as they prepare for their 2018 season opener.
“Were obviously looking for our identity,” said first-year Bangor head coach Dave Morris, whose 54-player roster includes 22 freshmen and 13 sophomores. “I think sometimes we think we know who we are and we know where we come from, but we need to know who we really are.”
Bangor has not won a game since a first-round playoff victory over Edward Little of Auburn in 2015, leaving the Rams with a 17-game winless streak that includes back-to-back 0-8 finishes each of the past two autumns.
And with the youth on the current squad, achieving success at the varsity level is not going to come without some growing pains.
“I think we’re really finding out what it is to play football and what it is to be a team,” Morris said. “You’ve got to really understand what a team’s all about to be successful, so there are a lot of life lessons that we’re learning right now.
“We’re sending the message that actions speak louder than words. We’re taking one day at a time and moving forward.”
Bangor’s effort to break through this fall is spearheaded by several players who have persevered through the program’s struggles. That group is led by the Rams’ captains — senior quarterback Zach Milliken, senior running back and linebacker Gabe Higgins, senior fullback and linebacker Lucas Burt, and junior two-way lineman Bryce Henaire.
“The seniors have been through a lot, and I tip my hat to them,” said Morris, who has coached Bangor’s baseball program to the past two Class A state championships as well as three American Legion state titles in the past five years. “They’re not quitters, they’ve got something to them and I’m not sure they understand what they have inside them, but there’s a lot of good things and we’re just trying to draw a lot of those good things out.”
Bangor also will turn to its youth to jumpstart its program, as was evidenced during a 26-12 exhibition loss at Brewer last Friday.
Eli Bradford, a sophomore wideout-defensive back; classmates James Neel and Jonny Lyon, both running backs and linebackers; and sophomore lineman Brady Breton were among the underclassmen who saw significant first-unit action against the Witches.
“We’re asking a lot from sophomores who have never been in this situation before and are stepping in to some big roles,” Morris said. “At the same time we’re learning what it takes to play this game outside the field. You’ve got to be in shape, you’ve got to be stronger, and it’s all about being a team.”
Morris’ focus entering the season is for his team to minimize the number of mental mistakes that opponents can turn against the Rams.
“We’re playing extremely hard, but we’re in a position right now where we don’t have a lot of depth in some areas,” Morris said. “We knew that coming in, but it’s nothing we’re going to feel sorry for ourselves about. We can deal with some physical things, but there have been some mental mistakes that are uncharacteristic of what we’ve seen but it’s early and we’re still getting to know each other.”
Among the teams that already have experienced such team bonding on the gridiron is Portland, which returns 10 starters on both offense and defense from the 2017 team that rebounded from an 0-5 start to reach the Class A North championship game before being ousted by Windham.
Oxford Hills, 4-4 a year ago, is another contender thanks in large part to a strong senior class led by Colton Carson, a third-year starter at quarterback who has verbally committed to join the University of Maine baseball program after graduation.
Bangor’s quest to return to a more competitive level likely will require some patience both within and outside the program, but Morris is determined to make it happen.
“We’re going to get there, it’s just a process,” he said. “(Against Brewer) we had some positive things and some negative things that we’re going to polish up.
“But we played hard, and we’re going to get better.”
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