HEBRON — One of the constants of the Maine Shrine Lobster Bowl’s first 22 years is the friendships made when high school rivalries are set aside. As the teams prepare for Saturday’s 23rd game at Hebron Academy, that’s once again the case.

Mt. Blue High School running back Izaiha Tracy was prepared to dislike the players from Leavitt, the team that beat Tracy’s Cougars 22-21 in overtime for the Class B East title. Instead, Tracy has become friends with Leaviit’s Jake Ouellette and Jordan Hersom.

“I’ve overcome it. I mess around with Ouellette all the time, and I’m good friends with Hersom,” Tracy said. “We all know it’s for a better cause and we should look past the rivalries we had before. It’s for something better.”

The annual football game raises money for the Shriner’s Hospitals. Kickoff is set for 4 p.m. Saturday at Waterhouse Field in Biddeford.

Mattanawcook Academy coach Dave Hainer, the head coach of the East squad, said he reminds the players of the reason for the game every day and the team has taken that to heart.

“We want to put on a great show for the fans. Everyone who is in the game or is going to the game is helping children. That’s the most important thing,” Hainer said.

Added Skowhegan defensive end Chris Kruse: “We always talk about, we’re doing it for a good cause. That’s why we’re here.”

West head coach Joel Stoneton of Winthrop can relate to what the players face in two or three a day practices in the summer heat. In 1993, Stoneton played in the Lobster Bowl.

“For me, it’s come full circle. When I talk to the kids, I’m able to say I really know what you’re going through. They can kind of connect to that a little bit,” Stoneton said.

When Stoneton played, the teams visited the Shriner’s Hospital in Springfield, Mass. That trip and the friendships he made are what Stoneton remembers the most from his experience in the game.

“That (hospital visit) really affected how I looked at the whole game,” Stoneton said. “Some of the friendships I made that week, I still stay in contact with guys. You bond quickly.”

Many players looked forward to competing with old rivals.

“I was excited to be with the Bangor kids. It’s been such a big rivalry with us the past four years, it’s fun to play with them,” Lawrence safety Alex Leathers said.

For Waterville defensive lineman Nick Margitza, it’s a treat to practice against Lawrence center Josh Perry.

“Perry and I have gone up against each other in exhibition games. So in practice we line up against each other,” Margitza said. “When we line up, it’s always a big bash.”

Quite a few players will move on to college football after the Lobster Bowl, but for some, this is the final game. Knowing the cause behind the game makes this last chance to play football special.

“For a while I thought it was going to be the state game that was my last game,” Perry said. “After I got picked, I was excited to have one more chance to go out and prove myself.”

• • •

When he arrived at camp on Sunday, Gardiner’s Alonzo Connor was prepared to quickly learn a new position. East coaches wanted Connor to play wide receiver in the spread offense, but after a few days of practice, Connor was moved back to running back.

“Just yesterday (Monday), they switched me back to running back. They feel like it’s a better fit for me,” Connor said.

In Gardiner’s power run oriented offense, Connor ran for more than 3,000 yards in a three-year career. In the East’s spread offense, Connor is a running option who can go between the tackles or bounce it outside with speed.

“I think I’m going to like it,” Connor said. “The whole team’s going to like it.”

The 6-foot, 190-pound Connor will play college football at American International College in Springfield, Mass.

“Right now, they want me on special teams to get going, then they want me on offense. I’ve got to get bigger,” Connor said.

• • •

Winthrop’s Tyler Reeve is enjoying this final chance to play for Stoneton, his high school coach.

“It’s definitely a really good experience,” Reeve, a defensive lineman, said. “He’s a very good coach and everyone I’ve talked to has enjoyed him.”

At 6-3, 190 pounds, Reeve is adjusting to the faster play and bigger opponents he’ll face in Saturday’s game.

“It’s a different experience than playing on my little Class C high school team,” Reeve said. “I have to be faster because I’m not going to overpower a lot of these guys. I’d better rely on my speed.”

Stoneton said Reeve is fitting in well with the West defense.

“I’ve seen that kid grow up and he belongs here. He’s representing very well,” Stoneton said.

• • •

Although they’ve graduated, players are keeping an eye on the Maine Principals’ Association realignment plans. The MPA is in the process of adding a fourth class to high school football. In the proposed realignment, defending Class A East champ Lawrence would drop to Class B. Count the Lobster Bowl’s three Lawrence alumni — Leathers, Perry and Shaun Carroll — among those who would like to see the Bulldogs play up and continue to face Class A competition.

“We’ve been competing in Class A and we’ve done really well, but if it happens, it happens,” Perry said.

Added Leathers: “It’s going to be a little bit weird at first. I think they’ll do fine down there and continue to have playoff berths and, hopefully, bring home some gold balls.”

• • •

Not only will Madison’s Stephen Day need to adjust to the college game in the fall, he’ll need to adjust to a whole new set of rules.

Day will play his college football at Acadia University in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, where he’ll play under Canadian football rules.

“I’ve watched a few of their highlight reels and a couple of their games, just to get used to the new rules,” Day, who will play linebacker for the East in Saturday’s game, said.

Canadian football is played on a 110 yard field with 12 players on each side. Teams have three downs to reach a first down rather than four and forward motion before the snap is allowed.

• • •

Winslow’s Eric Crawley would like to remind Winslow fans attending the game on Saturday that this season they must sit on the West side. Winslow moved to Class C West this season after two decades in Class B East, and that makes Crawley the first Black Raider to wear the West’s blue in the Lobster Bowl rather than the East’s Red.

“I had some coaches tell me it would look a little weird, but it doesn’t feel any different. I played football with everyone in the West,” Crawley said.

As a senior, the 5-10, 235-pound Crawley played fullback for the Black Raiders. For the Lobster Bowl, he’s playing offensive guard, a position he played as a Winslow junior when the Black Raiders lacked offensive line depth.

“I’m getting used to it. I’m getting back in the swing of it,” Crawley said.

The best advice Crawley was given before camp? Show up in shape or you won’t make it through the practices.

“They were right,” said Crawley, who is considering playing at Husson University in the fall.

• • •

While the football players have training camp at Hebron Academy, the cheerleaders prepare for Saturday’s game at training camp at Central Maine Community College in Auburn.

Central Maine students cheering for the East include Alyssa Brochu (Cony), Leah Howard-Berry (Cony), Crystal DaCosta (Madison), Cassidy Foster (Nokomis) and Katelynn Harris (Waterville).

Autumn Ayres of Oak Hill will represent the West.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

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