By Bill Stewart
Staff Writer

Ben Lucas, like most senior athletes, isn’t ready for the end.

The hulking Cony High School quarterback knows it’s coming, like a rolling wave about to crash.

“I don’t want it to be over,” said Lucas, as a smile faded from his face. “It’s gone by too fast. I just want it to keep going.”

When one of the best quarterbacks in Cony history plays his final game sometime this fall, the 6-foot-4, 227-pound Lucas will reflect on a legacy he’s worked hard to create and then decide his collegiate future he’s worked even harder to plan.

But that’s for some other day, at some other time.

Today, Lucas and his high-powered Rams (5-2) will prepare for rival Gardiner (0-7) before they embark on a playoff odyssey they hope ends with a Gold Ball at Alfond Stadium in Orono later next month.

“We have lofty expectations,” Lucas said. “But you know what? We feel we can accomplish them. We want it pretty bad. This is a goal a lot of us have had in sight for awhile.”

Lucas will graduate as one of the most prolific passers in Maine history. He’s thrown for 6,501 yards and 72 touchdowns in his career. Lucas has thrown for 2,204 yards and 24 touchdowns this season. He has six interceptions this season, and 27 for his career.

Former Winthrop quarterback Lee St. Hilaire is believed to hold the state record with 8,019 passing yards and 84 touchdowns.

St. Hilaire, a four-year starter, played in 43 games — going 36-7. Lucas will play in his 28th game Friday night at Alumni Field. The Rams are 15-12 in games he’s started, including 13-5 the last two seasons.

“Ben probably won’t reach the numbers St. Hilaire put up, but he’s still one of the best quarterbacks we’ve ever seen,” Cony coach Robby Vachon said. “Statistically, he’ll go down as one of the best. It’s a tough question — is he the best? — because you just don’t see quarterbacks throw as much as we do. But from a pure throwing standpoint, he’s certainly the very best who’s ever played here.”

Not bad, considering the 17-year-old Lucas didn’t take his first snap as a quarterback until eighth grade.

Lucas started playing football in second grade, and he primarily played wide receiver/running back. Things changed in eighth grade. Starting quarterback Jonathan Saban suffered an injury during the season opener and coaches called on Lucas to finish the game.

“In the second game I became the starter,” Lucas said, “and I kind of took it from there. They threw me in there and I kind of stuck.”

The following year, as a freshman, Lucas caught the attention of Vachon and the rest of the Cony coaching staff.

“We got wind of him and right out of the gate the first thing that jumped out at you was the size,” Vachon said. “We started him as a sophomore. We just thought as long as he could progress and develop he could become a quarterback and not just a big, physical kid.”

Lucas struggled a bit his sophomore season. Although he completed 110 of his 221 passes for 1,539 yards and 16 touchdowns, Lucas struggled to read defenses, go through his progressions and find the open receiver. The Rams finished 2-7.

“He started real young and he made mistakes young players make,” said senior wide receiver John Bennett. “But we knew what we had.”

Added senior Isaac Gingras, who’s been Lucas’ center since middle school: “You could always see the potential. It was there. He had the build and strength. We knew he’d be really, really good.”

But when? When would the transformation from good to great occur?

Lucas credited the following offseason, particularly pointing to the difficult workouts with his brother, Nick, as key to his development.

Nick Lucas, 20, graduated from Cony in 2011 and is a split end for Endicott College in Beverly, Mass. The brothers train with each other in the summer.

“We would go find the steepest hills in Augusta, the one near the skate park, and go run them,” Nick Lucas said. “Then we’d go up to the football field on Capital Park, right by the YMCA. I’d run some routes and he’d throw me the ball. We’d go red zone, slants, hitches, fades. I was hard on him. In July, we’d do this two or three times a week.

“If he missed me or threw a ball into the ground, I’d make him do 50-yard sprints or pushups. Right when he got to be the starting Cony quarterback, going into his sophomore year, he’d be doing 100 pushups and a ton of sprints. Going into his junior year, he never overthrew me. He never missed me. The junior year was his turning point. I knew he was going to be big-time.”

Ben Lucas enjoyed a breakout season his junior year. He threw for a school record 2,758 yards and 32 touchdowns. He completed 204 of his 355 passes and led the Rams to their first conference championship game in 20 years.

Cony fell to Lawrence in the PTC A final, but Lucas established himself as one of the premier passers in the state.

“My sophomore year was pretty rough,” he said. “My decision-making was shaky for the most part. But working out with Nick really helped me. He’s always been really hard on me. He’s pushed me to be the best. We worked a lot during that summer. I just got better, more comfortable. Going into senior year, I was ready.”

Lucas has completed 136 of 226 passes for 2,204 yards and 24 touchdowns this season. He’s thrown just six interceptions.

The Rams are vying for the No. 2 seed, which would earn them a bye into the PTC B semifinals.

“He’s been our leader,” Bennett said. “He’s not a big yeller but he’s gone out and led by example. We all want this.”

Lucas hopes to decide on his collegiate plans sometime after the season ends.

He took an official recruiting visit to the University of Maine last weekend and met with coach Jack Cosgrove. He’s looked at Holy Cross, Stonehill and Bentley. Future visits are planned for Wagner College (Staten Island, N.Y.), Bryant University (Smithfield, R.I.) and Sacred Heart (Fairfield, Conn.).

“I’m kind of going all over,” he said. “I want a place that has a style that fits me pretty well. I mean, I don’t want to go to a place that runs a triple option. It’s definitely been hectic. There’s a lot going on. Everybody is telling me to try and enjoy it because it’s the only time in your life that something like this happens. It’s always kind of something that you dream about as a kid, to be recruited by colleges. It’s something not a lot of people can do. It’s now becoming more of a reality now.“

“At the end of the year, I’ll make a decision. Right now, my first priority is the team. I want to win. I’m proud of what we’re doing here. We were the group that put Cony football back on the map. It’s been some time since Cony was consistently good. We want to have a long-term effect. We don’t want Cony to ever be a team that other teams want to play. As for me, all that people will remember is if you get the wins or not. It’s not about the passing yards or how many touchdowns you throw. It’s all about wins.”

Bill Stewart — 621-5640
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