FAIRFIELD — Forty-five minutes before his Mt. Blue High School football team kicked off to Lawrence, Jim Aylward walked around Keyes Field. The Cougars went through their pregame warmups, and Aylward went from group to group, offering encouragement and watching. Shortly before kickoff, Aylward spoke to the officials at midfield, pointed to the press box. Then he was gone.

Well, he wasn’t gone-gone. On Friday night, Aylward coached the Cougars from the booth. Assistant coaches Craig Collins and Kevin Averill handled things on the sidelines, and Aylward watched from high above Keyes Field.

“I’d have watched this from the parking lot,” Aylward said after his team won the game, 40-12. “It’s better than what I was doing last week at this time.”

A week ago, Aylward was in the hospital. Chest pains that originally were thought could be a heart attack turned out to be a collapsed lung. Aylward missed the Cougars’ home game against Brewer last Friday night, and spent the weekend in the hospital.

Aylward needed rest. He needed to be away from football. For a longtime coach like Aylward, the last place he wants to be is away from the field, and his team.

Before coming to Mt. Blue last year, when longtime coach Gary Parlin retired, Aylward was the head coach at Rumford’s Mountain Valley High School for more than two decades. At Mountain Valley, Aylward won more than 200 games. He led the Falcons to the regional championship game 17 times. Aylward’s teams went to the Class B state championship game eight times. He won four state championships at Mountain Valley, most recently in 2010.

The sideline is Aylward’s comfort zone. Sitting in the booth on Friday night at Keyes Field was an adjustment, he said.

“I liked it. I don’t want it to be a habit, but I liked it. I felt like it gave me a better feel for what Lawrence was doing offensively, defensively. It’s different,” Aylward said.

If you really want insight into how much Aylward’s teams mean to him, watch “The Rivals,” Kirk Wolfinger’s documentary about the rivalry that emerged between Aylward’s Mountain Valley and Cape Elizabeth High School in 2006 and 2007. The movie follows both teams through the 2007 season. Aylward’s Falcons were the defending Class B state champs, and the film builds to the anticipated regular season matchup between the teams.

Cape Elizabeth beat Mountain Valley, and it’s at the game’s completion you get the best glimpse into Aylward’s personality. The Capers are celebrating as if they just won the Gold Ball. They continue to celebrate, and Aylward and his team wait for the postgame hand shake.

That’s when you see Aylward’s love for his team, as he seethes. Aylward feels his team has been treated with disrespect, and not for one second will he tolerate it.

Aylward’s love for his team and the game pours out of him as he dresses down Cape Elizabeth coach Aaron Fileo for the Capers’ antics.

That same love poured out of Aylward after Friday’s win at Lawrence, as he praised his team and coaching staff, particularly defensive coordinator Craig Collins, who served as interim head coach against Brewer and was the man in charge on the Cougars’ sideline at Lawrence.

“I’m great. I’m very fortunate to be part of the program, that’s how I feel. I’ve got Craig and other assistant coaches who are just outstanding coaches,” Aylward said. “We’ve been working hard at this all summer. It’s nice to know that if I can’t be here, I have something I have to take care of, I have someone like Craig and the other coaches who can just keep turning the page and keep this moving forward.”

Back on the field after the game, Aylward’s excitement drew cheers from his team.

“It’s a great night to be a Cougar,” Aylward said to his team after the game. Then he said it again.

High school football in Maine is better with people like Aylward involved. Here’s hoping he’s involved for a long time to come.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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