Perhaps no one was looking forward to Monday’s start of preseason high school football practices more than the players who work along the line of scrimmage.
The early days of double sessions aren’t exactly the stuff of game nights for linemen as they are void of contact and designed to focus on conditioning and acclimatizing players to the typical mid-August heat.
Yet they already are ahead of last year’s schedule.
“A year ago at this time we were all sitting home and we knew we weren’t going to play,” Bangor head coach Dave Morris said.
While backs and receivers had 7-on-7 passing competition to fall back on last fall after the 2020 tackle football season was canceled due to COVID-19, linemen largely were limited to individual drills and an occasional big-man skills competition.
“It was definitely tough, especially for the linemen because you can’t really participate in 7-on-7 as much as the other guys,” said Luke Missbrenner, a senior center and linebacker at Bangor High School. “The guards and tackles didn’t have much of an experience, really.”
The upcoming season is not without its own uncertainty given the emergence of the delta variant of coronavirus and the resurgence in case numbers after a quieter spring and early summer, so those within the Bangor football program have adopted a short-term focus.
“You’ve got to stay positive,” senior offensive guard and defensive tackle Gavin Young said. “Last year we tried to stay positive but obviously we didn’t get the games in and that was a disappointment. But right now we’re full throttle and ready to go.”
The Maine Principals’ Association has urged schools to follow U.S. and Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. They include the wearing of face masks while inside public places, but make no such recommendation for outdoor activities.
Bangor’s coaches and players wore face masks while in the school Monday but the players replaced them with their football helmets once outside.
“When we’re outside we’re just enjoying what we have,” Morris said. “I really don’t want the kids to think about COVID when we’re outside. It’s not that we’re neglecting it or being irresponsible, I just want them to enjoy. We’ve just told the kids that we’re going to take one day at a time. It’s the way we’re going to practice, it’s the way we’re going to play.”
Bangor was on the rebound when it last played tackle football in 2019, as one of the state’s younger Class A teams posted a 4-5 regular-season record — three victories more than in the previous three seasons combined — and reached the Class A quarterfinals.
Approximately half of this year’s squad were sophomores on that team, gaining experience for what they hoped would be two more seasons of additional growth.
Now after a lost 2020 they are seniors, playing for themselves and former teammates who never got to play as seniors in 2020.
“We couldn’t do anything about it but I was definitely upset to have that year taken away from us because I think we had a good group last year,” Missbrenner said.
Bangor will have its first competition this year on Saturday in a controlled scrimmage at Lawrence High School of Fairfield.
That’s followed by an exhibition game against Skowhegan on Saturday, Aug. 28, before the season opener at Brewer on Sept. 3.
“Everyone’s itching to play,” Morris said. “Saturday can’t come quick enough, to be honest with you. You always want to practice, but after missing a year the guys really have game time on their minds.”
Missbrenner, Young and several other Bangor football teammates hope their looming return to the gridiron this fall replicates their return to the baseball diamond this past spring after that 2020 season also was wiped out by COVID-19.
“We experienced it during baseball when we didn’t have a year and then we went to the state championship [final this year],” Young said. “I guess it’s the same with football, we just have to pick up where we left off, grind out these dog days and see what happens.”