WATERVILLE — Back in 1993, Mike Hamel terrified opponents of the Waterville Senior High School football team. Even Matt Gilley, then in junior high school and best friends with Hamel’s little brother Josh, was scared of the 6-foot-2, 210-pound Hamel.

“He was gigantic. He never said a lot, then or now, so you never knew what he was thinking,” Gilley, now in his sixth season at Waterville’s head football coach, said. “You respect the way he played. He was going a million miles an hour and hitting anybody that was around. What am I looking at here?”

In 1993, Hamel was the most dominant high school football player in the state. He won the James J. FItzpatrick Trophy, awarded annually to Maine’s best senior player, helping Waterville win the first of back-to-back Pine Tree Conference titles. As a fullback, Hamel ran for 990 yards on 158 carries, scoring 2o touchdowns. He caught 15 passes for 355 yards and three more touchdowns. As a linebacker, Hamel made 134 tackles, had three sacks, two interceptions, and two fumble recoveries, one for a touchdown.

Mike Hamel won the 1993 Fitzpatrick trophy while playing running back for the Waterville Purple Panthers. Kennebec Journal file photo by Joe Phelan

“(Hamel) Never said a word during the game. He was a perfect non-trash talker. He did the talking with his pads. He was relentless,” Frank Knight, Hamel’s head coach at Waterville, said. “He was a leader. Guys looked up to him.”

This season, for the first time in two and a half decades, Hamel is involved with Waterville football, as an assistant coach to Gilley. Hamel sees his job as having two primary duties. One, teach the current Purple Panthers how to play the game. Two, help revitalize Waterville’s football tradition. Hamel remembers games at the school’s Drummond Field in front of huge crowds that lined the fence around the field.

Waterville High School is a smaller place than when Hamel was a student in the early ’90s. Then a Class A power, the team now competes with smaller schools in Class C. Even so, Hamel sees a spark of the old pride, and he wants to help it grow.

“What we preach to these kids, from top to bottom, it’s a family,” Hamel, now 45, said. “I want to show these kids what it can be like.”

With that in mind, Hamel decided to donate his Fitzpatrick Trophy to Waterville High. He’s already given the award to the school, but it will be made official as part of Waterville’s Football Reunion game Saturday. Purple Panther football alumni are invited to attend Saturday’s game at Drummond Field against Maine Central Institute, as well as a barbecue afterward.

Hamel is excited to catch up with teammates and other alumni, including Trevor Moore, an all-state defensive back and former teammate who is coming in from Indiana. Hamel hasn’t seen Moore in 20 years, he said.

“It’s about the school and the team,” Hamel said. “I want it more to be about everybody. I couldn’t have won that trophy without my teammates.”

The itch to get back into football hit Hamel last winter, when he was invited to the Fitzpatrick Trophy awards dinner. Recent tradition dictates the winner from 25 years previous presents the trophy to the latest winner. In January, Hamel presented Tyler Bridge of Wells the 2018 Fitzpatrick Trophy.

At the awards dinner, Hamel caught up with Knight, and decided he wanted to be a part of football again.

“Seeing Coach Knight stirred up some school spirit. I decided (the trophy) should be at school where people can enjoy it, instead of sitting on a shelf at my parents’ house,” Hamel said.

Hamel reached out to Gilley about helping out. Remembering the dominant player who scared him a little years ago, Gilley didn’t hesitate in inviting Hamel a spot with the coaching staff.

“I was one of those junior high guys running around the field in ’93 and ’94. When he reached out this summer,  it was a no-brainer,” Gilley said. “We run the same sort of stuff on offense and defense as we did when he was here, so we meshed immediately… He took to the kids immediately. It all started flooding back to him. It was fantastic for me to see. Here is a guy I was watching very very closely and respected a heck of a lot. His wanting to be involved just meant the world to me.”

Former running back Mike Hamel won the 1993 Fitzpatrick Trophy at Waterville, and he has a football card to honor the accomplishment. Contributed photo

Trafton Gilbert, a senior fullback/linebacker and co-captain of the Panthers, plays the same positions Hamel did.

“He’s been a really big help to me. He really critiques the little things. Linebacker, I’ve only been playing it since last year. He’s helped me take bigger steps with that. It’s been really nice to have him around,” Gilbert said of Hamel’s influence.

Hamel needed to make the time commitment work with his life. He and his wife own Wild Child Farm in Pittston, where they board as many as 25 horses at a time. Hamel also has a full-time job with Adams Home and Pet Supplies in Winthrop. Hamel is able to attend three or four practices each week, as well as all of Waterville’s games.

“This is the greatest thing for me. Being around town is great for me,” Hamel, whose only previous coaching experience was helping Dick Whitten with the Waterville baseball team 20 years ago, said. “It’s all back to basics. I know all the drills we used to do.”

Last season, before Waterville’s playoff game at Winslow, the team watched highlights from the 1993 season at Gilley’s house. The players noticed number 37, Hamel, making play after play. There were a lot of ooohs and ahhs, Gilley said.

“Obviously, Mike’s all over it. Us as coaches, we’re all products of this program. We said, ‘See? That’s what it’s supposed to look like,'” Gilley said.

Added Gilbert: “I strive to be like that. He was a great player, always flying around. His highlights were really special.”

Knight thinks Hamel’s return to Waterville football may relate to the pangs of nostalgia many of us feel. Hamel was a leader on those great Waterville teams, and Knight hopes by giving his time now, Hamel leads others to do the same.

“As we all get older, I think we look back on our lives and say ‘this was a really positive experience for me.’ I think something recently has clicked in Mike, where he said this was a really great place for me to grow up and go to school and play football, and I learned so much. He sees the program struggling right now, and he just wants to help,” Knight said. “He just wants to give back. I still see him as my player. Having Mike here, I can’t measure the benefit of it.”

Gilley remembers a Waterville youth football league full of teams, which fed into the strong high school program. With the support of Hamel and other alumni, Gilley wants the current team to better understand its roots.

As much as Hamel would prefer to deflect attention from himself, it really begins with him. Gilley said Hamel’s return has already had an impact.

“We try to tell them, there’s a contingent of people paying attention you, and you don’t even know they exist. We try to tell this this, and with Mike back, we’ve had a few guys come to breakfast and introduce themselves,” Gilley said. This weekend is going to be a great opportunity to get in front of them and say hey, if you can carve out in your schedule to be a part of the youth program.

“That’s how we got to where we where,” Gilley continued. “We strive to get back there. It’s a different place, different time, different people, but the spark of those people and the love we all had for what we were doing, we’re trying to pass that along to these guys.”

 

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

 

 

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