AUGUSTA — For 73 days last summer, Jake Dacus tested himself in ways he never expected. Now, he’s playing the Tasmanian Devil, 84 feet of controlled mayhem style of basketball used by the Cony High School boys varsity team is a breeze.

“The heat. It messes with your body and your mind, and you’ve just got to push through it,” Dacus said.

Much of Dacus’ summer vacation was spent in Army boot camp at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. A member of the Maine Army National Guard, Dacus plans to attend military police training school next summer after graduation from Cony.

“It was tough. You get pushed every day, and you’ve just got to overcome that,” Dacus said.

Dacus is a solid 5-foot-10, 205-pounds. He’s not just a lumbering big guy Cony coach TJ Maines can employ to set brick wall screens and take up space in the low post. Dacus is a basketball player.

Dacus is a key defender at the front of Cony’s full court zone press, hustling to trap and make opponents trying to advance the ball past midcourt. In Saturday morning’s exhibition win over Camden Hills, Dacus made a pair of 3-pointers for his six points, had a steal early in the third quarter, and lunged out of bounds trying to save the ball. Dacus said boot camp helped him lose 30 pounds, and he’s using his new, more athetic body to help the Rams raise end to end havoc.

“I think his legs are better. It’s much more suited to be able to run a little quicker and harder. It’s good for his long-term health and in the military, he’s going to like that body,” Maines said.

Another reason basketball is easier for Dacus now: he’s pushed himself to what he thought was his limit, then went farther. If Dacus learned anything about himself at boot camp, it’s he’s much tougher than he ever gave himself credit for.

“The body can do anything. You’ve just got to push past it,” Dacus said.

As boot camp wore on, did Dacus ever question his decision?

“Almost every day. I missed home a lot,” he said.

His father, Dennis Dacus, noticed a change in his son almost immediately after picking him up for the long drive home.

“He had a hard time, like any 17-year old kid, being away from home. Five miles down the road on a two or three day drive home, he said ‘I miss (boot camp). I want to go back,'” Dennis said. “He’s much more mature. He’s been pretty focused on his career path.”

Maines noticed a change, too.

“I don’t know if it’s because of boot camp or because he’s a senior, but he’s taken more of a leadership role. He’s more vocal with the guys. Jake’s more quiet by nature, and he’s making an effort to communicate more on the floor, off the floor,” Maine said. “He has a palpable enthusiasm for practice. He was texting me before the season, ‘I can’t wait Coach.’ Jake last year probably doesn’t do that. He’s always been a good kid, a hard-working kid. I think it’s an unbelievable thing he wants to go and serve right away.”

A career in the military is something Dacus has considered for a long time. Last year, he began the work to make it happen. He looks forward to starting his military police training.

“We kind of set the standard, and I like to see myself as a leader,” Dacus said.

First, Dacus will be a leader on the Cony basketball team, then the baseball team this spring. Different uses of the same skill set, and all building toward his goal.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

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Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM