DOVER-FOXCROFT — One final football game. That’s what Saturday’s 29th annual Maine Shrine Lobster Bowl Classic represents for most of the players: a last chance to strap on the pads and enjoy the camaraderie many athletes believe is unique to football.

“It’s getting the chance to suit up one more time and playing with teammates that I haven’t met, or with teammates that I’ve played against,” said Arlo Pike of Bonny Eagle, who won the Gaziano Memorial Award in January as the state’s top defensive lineman. “So far it’s been an awesome experience.”

Players come to the end of their football road from different perspectives.

For Pike and West teammate Owen Garrard, the Fitzpatrick Trophy winner from Class A champion Scarborough, it was a conscious choice to say no thanks to college recruiters. They had grown tired of paying football’s physical and mental costs.

“Really, I just want to focus on school a lot and Division I can be a lot of time, like nine months out of 12,” said Garrard, who will attend Coastal Carolina. “It’s taken a toll on my body as well, just the way I run, a physical style. Head injuries, too. Just all that stuff. I could feel my body falling apart.”

A 6-foot, 230-pound running back with nimble feet, Garrard said he decided as a junior that he would be done with football as a high schooler. He didn’t put himself into the recruiting mix but still had feelers from the University of Maine and NESCAC Division III programs like Wesleyan.

Pike, a 6-foot-3, 250-pound lineman who also played tight end, was recruited by UMaine. Multiple sources, including Scots Coach Kevin Cooper, have said Pike was the Black Bears’ top in-state recruit.

Pike decided instead to go to the University of Southern Maine, where he will play baseball.

“I felt like football kind of ran its course for me,” he said. “My heart wasn’t really in it as much. I didn’t want to waste the (UMaine) coaches’ time, the program’s time, and didn’t want to waste my time being up there and not giving it my all.”

Tanner Bernier of Windham also saw baseball at USM as his best option, though he’d love to play more football. USM doesn’t have a football program.

“I wish I could have played college football, but I just never put myself out there and baseball is just kind of there,” said Bernier, who played quarterback and safety for the Class A North champion Eagles.

“I’d love another chance to play football somewhere so who knows, maybe there’s some scouts at this game.”

If the Lobster Bowl is indeed Bernier’s final football game, it will be a fitting farewell.

As a pre-teen he twice won the punt-pass-and-kick contests that were held at halftime of the Lobster Bowl.

“I wasn’t a good kicker but I could throw it pretty far,” Bernier said. “Going to the game has become a tradition. I’ll make time for it. I don’t care what’s going on, I’m going to the game.”

In fact, getting him to come off the field might be the biggest challenge for the East coaching staff. Bernier is expected to start at safety, his best position, but he’s angling for extra time.

“I don’t care if it’s special teams. I’ll go out there and play offense. I’ll play quarterback,” he said. “I want to go out on that field and give my all, and I want to end my career with a win.”

Ben Hughes of Scarborough, who centered the Red Storm’s offensive line, knew football would end as a high school senior. The season ended on the highest possible note, with a state championship, but it was also bittersweet.

“It had taken me awhile to kind of get through that football is done. This has been my life for the last 10 years or so,” said Hughes, who will major in political science at the University of Denver.

Hughes wasn’t an original selection to the West team. But with former Scarborough teammates Zoltan Panyi and Cody Dudley choosing not to play, and other roster changes opening a spot in the offensive line, Hughes was given a call two weeks before this week’s training camp at Foxcroft Academy.

“Now it’s like every practice means something,” Hughes said. “It’s like taking advantage of every second you’re on the field. It’s fun to be around football and football players.”

It’s an experience worth another week of bumps and bruises that come from three-a-day practices.

“Really, it’s just to get out here and strap the pads on for one more week, and to play against and with these guys that I’ve been going against for the last four years of high school,” Garrard said. “I mean, I love all these guys. It’s weird, you have these rivalries and stuff, but getting to know these guys, they’re great guys.”

Steve Craig can be reached at 791-6413 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: SteveCCraig

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