It will be like Christmas in July for football players, coaches and fans throughout the state as the offseason schedule heats up next month.

A number of central Maine teams will be participating in various camps being held throughout the region in July and, of course, the highly-anticipated Maine Shrine Lobster Bowl Classic will kick off for the 27th time.

One of the highlights leading up to the Lobster Bowl is Skowhegan Area High School’s Central Maine Skills Day, formerly the Big Man Battle, on July 9. As in past years, the event features offensive and defensive linemen competing in individual and team events. This year, it has been expanded to include 7-on-7 games for skill position players in a round robin format.

One of the most popular 7-on-7 leagues in central Maine is the Central Maine Passing League held annually at Leavitt Area High School in Turner, which is a three-day competition for skill position players.

Teams are split up into two divisions and play 10 games over the three days, which concludes with a single-elimination tournament to determine a champion in each division. There is no blocking or tackling, and players don’t wear pads or helmets.

Leavitt coach Mike Hathaway said the league will have 16 to 18 teams this year, as well as about a half-dozen middle school teams. Games will take place 5p.m. to 8 p.m. on July 17, 22 and 29.

The league has become popular with coaches and players over the years as a fun, low-key way to begin preparation for the upcoming fall season.

“It’s backyard football in an organized way. What’s not to like?” Oak Hill coach Stacen Doucette said.

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This offseason is a little different for Doucette and the Raiders, winners of three consecutive Class D state championships. They are breaking in a number of new players at the skill positions, including senior-to-be quarterback Matthew Strout, who replaces the graduated QB Dalton Therrien. The passing camp is an opportunity for him to get repetitions in the offense and develop a rapport with receivers Darren Bailey, Steve Gilbert, Danny Buteau, Austin Pierce and Austin Noble.

Doucette said the Leavitt league and other offseason activities have been vital to laying the ground work for the Raiders’ success, and will be critical in helping the new players create their own success.

“It’s more just the football team finding their own identity, how they fit together in terms of team chemistry,” said Doucette, whose busy offseason includes serving as head coach for the West in the Lobster Bowl. “Building a team from the ground up, it’s very important for us.”

Veteran teams depend on summer football to take the next step in their development, too. Winthrop/Monmouth, which fell to Oak Hill 13-10 in a D South semifinal last season, returns eight linemen, its top two running backs, top two receivers and senior-to-be QB Matt Ingram to the lineup.

While Winthrop coach Dave St. Hilaire will look to get Ingram back on the same page with receivers Bennett Brooks and Andrew Pazdziorko this summer, he will place as much emphasis, if not more, on improving his secondary and other defenders’ coverage skills and coordination. Like Doucette, though, he said the real value in the passing camp is how it helps his team start to jell.

“The most we get from that is team chemistry and bonding,” he said.

With the level of competition and a division championship to shoot for, the games can often be as competitive as they are fun, he added.

“It does (get competitive) because you really take that one-on-one battle seriously,” St. Hilaire said. “Even though you’re wearing only a mouthpiece, t-shirt, shorts, cleats and no helmets, it will get physical. You have to play a little physical.”

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The 27th Maine Shrine Lobster Bowl Classic is Saturday, July 16 at Biddeford’s Waterhouse Field, meaning participants are doing some last-minute fundraising to help Shrine Hospitals for Children throughout North America. For the second year in a row, Foxcroft Academy will host training camp, which will open July 10.

The all-star game draws recently-graduated football players from around the state each year. The West won last year’s game, 45-21, to improve its series record to 18-8 and break up the East’s run of winning four of the previous six.

Among central Maine players listed on the East roster: Sam Baker, Skowhegan; Chase Malloy, Madison; Nat Beckwith, Alec Clark and Jacob Trask, Winslow; Tyler Ripley, Mount View; Nate Pratt-Holt, Mt. Blue; Isaiah Swan, Gardiner; Jack Bernatchez, Messalonskee; Kyle Robinson, Lawrence; Jake SeeHusen, Nokomis; Curtis McLeod, MCI; and Anthony Brunelle, Cony. The West roster includes: Ben Ames, Winthrop/Monmouth; Kyle Morand, Maranacook; and Connor Elwell and Dalton Therrien, Oak Hill.

Tickets are $8 for general admission and $10 for reserved seats and may be purchased on game day at the Waterhouse Field ticket booth. For more information on tickets and donations, visit: http://www.korashriners.org/lobster-bowl/lobster-bowl

Kickoff is scheduled for 4 p.m.

Randy Whitehouse — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @RAWmaterial33

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