AUGUSTA — Keith Cloutier introduced himself to Cony football coach Robby Vachon in the middle of the summer.
The 18-year-old Erskine Academy transfer wanted to try a new sport, and, well, football seemed like a lot of fun.
“When I met the coach, I told him I would do anything,” Cloutier, of Palermo, said. “I just said I wanted to play and I would go anywhere. I knew I was an athlete. I was physically fit. I’d been lifting. I had never done football before, but I decided to give it a try.”
It didn’t take long for Cloutier to introduce himself to the rest of Pine Tree Conference Class A.
With no prior football experience, Cloutier showed up for tryouts, impressed in the preseason and earned himself a starting position at defensive end.
“I didn’t have a position in preseason,” Cloutier said. “In the Gardiner game, I just went in on special teams and made a few plays. I just wanted to show the coaches what I could do.”
Vachon said the coaching staff was quickly impressed.
“We knew he was a very good athlete,” Vachon said. “He went out and made some plays and we knew right off the bat we had to find a place for him on the field. We thought about wide receiver, but we were pretty deep there. Fortunately for him the defensive end position was open, and we slid him in there nicely. He’s very physical and does a nice job of taking on blocks. We liked his physicalness and he fit in nicely.”
Cloutier started at defensive end in the regular-season opener against Messalonskee and never missed a game. He’s a big reason why the Rams are enjoying their finest season since 1992. No. 2 Cony (8-2) will play at top-seeded Lawrence (10-0) in the Pine Tree Conference Class A championship game at 1 p.m. Saturday.
“It really is surreal,” Cloutier said. “I kind of can’t believe it happened like this.”
Neither can his father, Adam Cloutier, who played middle linebacker and fullback for Cony in the late 1970s.
“He wasn’t getting everything out of Erskine,” he said. “High school is supposed to be the best years of your life. He came to us and said, ‘It isn’t happening, dad.’ He talked about transferring, and we decided to give it a shot. To tell you the truth, I didn’t think he’d start. I thought maybe he’d get in some special teams here and there. You never know. I told him that he was going in blind. I said, ‘Whatever you do, you do anything to help the team. You just go where they put you. If you want something in return, you have to be willing to put something into it.’ He’s really took to it.”
Adam Cloutier graduated from Cony in 1980. He played on the 1979 Cony team that upset state champ Gardiner.
Cloutier wore No. 30 for the Rams then. His younger brothers, Andy and Aaron, also played at Cony and wore the No. 30.
The number was available this season and Keith Cloutier scooped it up.
“It’s a family number,” he said. “You play with it and play with heart. It’s the number that represents you so wear it proud.”
Cloutier said it was a smooth transition on the football field and in school. While he’d never played organized football before, he’d been around it all his life. It helped having his father and a few uncles play the game.
“My dad would tell me about how much fun he had playing at Cony,” he said. “I wanted to adopt it into my life. When I transferred to Cony, I was just looking for another start. Football kind of fell into my lap. I wasn’t doing a fall sport and decided to play. It was great because the guys took me in and helped me out. It was an opportunity and I ran with it.”
Senior captain Chandler Shostak, who plays defensive back and wide receiver, said Cloutier fit in immediately.
“He’s been great for us,” he said. “He just brings a spirit to the team. It’s not easy, doing what he did. But he showed up and stepped up.”
Now, the latest in a line of Cony Cloutiers hopes to help the Rams reach their first Class A state championship game.
“It’s been an unbelievable experience,” Keith Cloutier said. “It all started with me establishing a few friends at Cony. I really liked who I was around. It was just a great opportunity. Hopefully, we can go to the next step.”
Bill Stewart — 621-5640