AUGUSTA — Congratulations, Alec Clark and Frank Curran. You are now members of what looks like one of the most close-knit clubs in Maine. At the Augusta Civic Center on Saturday afternoon, Clark and Curran were named the 2015 winners of the Frank J. Gaziano Award, given annually to the top high school offensive and defensive lineman in the state.

When Clark, a four-year starter for Winslow High School, and Curran, a three-year starter for Cheverus High of Portland, were presented their trophies, each was congratulated by a line of past winners. The Gaziano Award is still pretty young, having been started in 2010, but it already has one of the coolest traditions in high school sports. Each year, the winner and his head coach are presented the rotating trophy by the previous year’s winner and head coach. So many high school sports have postseason awards in Maine, but none makes sure to include past winners like the Gaziano Award.

Clark and Winslow coach Mike Siviski accepted the offensive lineman trophy from Windham’s Zach Davis and coach Matt Perkins. For Curran, the second consecutive defensive lineman winner from Cheverus, it meant accepting the trophy from John Wolfgram, his coach with the Stags, and former teammate Zordan Holman, last year’s winner.

By all accounts, Frank Gaziano, the award’s namesake who died in 2010, was a big believer in the power of family and community. It should be no surprise that this award holds those traits in such high regard, and why previous winners flock back to the awards ceremony each year. Before Clark and Curran were announced as the winners, Holman and Davis urged each of the finalists to enjoy the moment and to continue to work hard.

“Take it all in and appreciate it,” Davis said. “Avoid complacency. Nobody will know how far you’ve come if you settle for less.”

Just before the announcement of the winners, Peter DeSimon, the president of the Gaziano Award board of directors, asked former Gaziano Award winners and nominees to stand up. Eight young men did as asked. Eight came back to honor this year’s six finalists (three offensive linemen, three defensive linemen). Just as importantly, by coming back, they honored Gaziano and the spirit of the award.

The event’s keynote speakers were Matt Welch and Nate Martel, who in 2010 won the first Gaziano Awards. At the time, Welch was an offensive lineman from South Portland. Martel was a defensive lineman from Bonny Eagle. Welch and Martel spoke about the interview each semifinalist for the Gaziano Award must conduct with the selection committee.

“You see the true character of these great young men,” Welch, who went on to play football at Bates, said. “It’s been awesome to watch this award grow… When I was here six years ago, I was just pushing my food around my plate. I was so nervous.”

Welch and Martel spoke of the traits needed to be a successful football player, traits the Gaziano Award finalists had to have in spades. Accountability. Overcoming adversity. Humility. Work ethic. Respect. Confidence. Now that he’s done playing football at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Martel said he sees these qualities helping him navigate the real world. Martel recalled studying his chemical engineering at WPI until 4 a.m., then heading to a 6 a.m. football practice in the cold and rain. The kind of day nobody wants to be there, but they are, because that’s what you have to do.

“So if the boss asks you to stay an extra hour? Pfft, that’s nothing,” Martel said.

Clark and Curran showed they get it when delivering their acceptance speeches. Curran spoke of the character he’s learned from Wolfgram. Clark spoke of being a member of Winslow’s successful football program, and the support he’s received from the Winslow community.

“It’s not about fame and glory. It’s about the team. What can I do for the team?” Clark said.

Clark and Curran are joining an elite club that expects a lot from its members. Something tells me they’ll do just fine.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

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</URL>Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM


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