If you think taking over a team for your first football head coaching job — while also having to teach that team a new way of playing — is stressful, guess what?

You’re right.

“When I got hired, there was definitely a lot of urgency to go to these clinics (and) to do the research,” said Jordan DeMillo, who took over as Maranacook head coach for this season, the Black Bears’ first in eight-man football. “Not only was I taking on head coaching for the first time and calling both sides of the defense and offense, but I was also taking on this totally new style of play.

“I was definitely not overconfident going into the summer.”

You wouldn’t know it based on how the year went. DeMillo’s Black Bears turned from eight-man novices into a class favorite, going 9-1 (including 8-0 in the regular season) and reaching the large school final.

For his success, DeMillo is the Central Maine Football Coach of the Year. MCI’s Tom Bertrand, Cony’s B.L. Lippert and Mt. Blue’s Scott Franzose were also considered.

“I’m really excited going into next year,” DeMillo said. “I think we definitely sparked interest in the school and the community.”

It was a process, however, particularly for the coach. DeMillo took the early practices and scrimmages as a way to learn more and more about the intricacies of eight-man, and adapted his style to fit the sometimes inconvenient truths about the new rules.

One area regarded player roles. Players that can have one responsibility in 11-man football – think cover corners, downhill linebackers or two-gap nose tackles – are obsolete in eight-man, and DeMillo needed to mold his players into versatile pieces.

“That idea of a position player in eight-man is gone,” he said. “On (Tuesdays and Wednesdays) I have time in for individual workouts. … For defense, I was almost always working with cornerbacks and linebackers.”

There were other challenges, but each time, DeMillo found an answer. After realizing during the first scrimmage the danger of missed tackles with only eight defenders on the field, he had his team spend a half-an-hour to an hour each week on tackling fundamentals. When the team’s opener with Boothbay was marred by flags, DeMillo noticed they were mostly concerning lining up, and had his players run the walkthroughs on the game field so they’d line up more precisely.

And for every other question mark, DeMillo found the solution through film..

“I really felt like teaching the game of football (was important),” he said. “ ‘Why do you have to have gap responsibility on this play?’ ‘Why do you have to cover this guy on this play? Because he’s off and he’s eligible.’ Just going over those things constantly with them really helped limit penalties and mistakes.”

The work paid off. Maranacook had eight-man football’s best defense, and rolled through the regular season undefeated. The Black Bears finally saw the road end in the large school final when an injury and ineligibility on the defensive line left them ill-equipped to stop Mt. Ararat’s running game, but DeMillo knew the year had already been proven a success.

“The kids are great, the community was definitely awesome,” he said. “I’ve got some kids that are really raring to go in the weight room. … I return all but two of my defense, so I’m really excited about next year.” 

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