As Mark Shields and the rest of the football coaching staff at Mount Desert Island High School in Bar Harbor met this week, there were two priorities.
One was further studying the intricacies of 8-player football, which the Trojans played for the first time last fall. His long-term goal is to sell the fast pace and high-scoring nature of this relatively new version of the sport in an area that has seen reduced participation. None of last year’s three youth squads from grades 3-8 had enough players to field a full team.
“A big goal of ours is to try to get people excited about football again on the island and get kids back playing football because the numbers are low now and who knows what the future holds,” he said.
Shields was hired last week to his second stint as MDI’s head football coach. He began his coaching career on the island with seven years as an assistant before starting a 15-year-run as the Trojans head coach in 2003. His teams compiled a 74-68 record, including a combined 18-4 in 2016 and 2017. That team, Shields’ final one, was the Class C North runner-up.
“When I stepped down, honestly in my mind I was done,” he said. “I just felt like it had run its course.”
Shields spent 2018 away from the game, in part to watch one of his daughters play her senior season of volleyball. He then rejoined the coaching staff under his successor and former assistant, Mark Arnold, in 2019 after a chance talk with MDI athletic director Bunky Dow at The Travelin Lobster in Bar Harbor, where Shields cooks lobsters during the summer.
“I ended up coming back as an assistant and actually loved it,” Shields said. “You don’t have those extra responsibilities that come with being a head coach and you can just focus on the games and practices and the kids.”
Arnold guided MDI’s football program through the 2020 pandemic season and the delayed switch to 8-player football last fall amid shrinking roster sizes.
After being limited to an abbreviated flag football schedule during 2020, the Trojans played their first full season of 8-player football last fall and finished 3-5 after advancing to the North regional large-school semifinals before Arnold resigned in January for personal reasons.
Shields checked with the other assistants about whether any might seek to succeed Arnold, and when he found no interest he applied for the job.
“Coach Shields brings many years of experience and is well respected by league coaches, parents and players,” Dow said. “We have a very good group of players returning and who knows, we may add a few more with coach Shields back as the head coach.”
Shields, who also teaches physical education and health at MDI High School, hopes to field a fairly experienced roster numbering in the mid- to upper-20s this fall as MDI seeks to establish itself further in the 8-player ranks.
“It’s the same skill set. We’re still coaching football like we’ve coached football. The scheming is definitely different because of the 8-man instead of the 11-man, but it’s an exciting game,” Shields said. “There’s a lot of scoring and it’s fun to play.
“I know my son loves it. He’s a receiver and it’s wide open and the ball’s in the air a lot.”