Football players run through drills during a passing camp Monday in Augusta. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

If Scott Franzose needed a sign that football was on its way back after being sent to the sidelines last season, it came last week when Mt. Blue hosted its football camp for grades 7-12, and had between 35 and 50 players show up each night.

The Mt. Blue coach could see that where there was pessimism and concern last year, there’s enthusiasm this time around.

“Everybody has been obviously excited, there’s good news, we’re getting back to some level of normalcy,” Franzose said. “Everyone’s just ready to get back into football.”

Summer’s just begun, but teams have been busy laying the foundations for the upcoming season. Mt. Blue has been holding practices for three weeks. Winthrop/Monmouth/Hall-Dale has started lifting and had a spring camp in June, with 37 players showing up to get their equipment for the fall. Several teams across the area have 7-on-7 dates booked for middle and late July.

It may be the same old drill for football teams in early July. But after last season, when teams were limited essentially to isolated workouts, a return to the routine of competition and camaraderie is a welcome change.

Football players run through drills during a passing camp Monday in Augusta. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

“It’s kind of business as usual,” Franzose said. “At any given practice, we’ve had 30-plus kids. … We’re doing as much as we can without the pads, and kind of feeling normal. It feels good to kind of look like football as we remember it again.”

Some coaches, however, have noticed more of a reluctant enthusiasm. Cony has been running 7-on-7 matchups, while also opening the weight room four mornings a week and holding throw and catch sessions on Thursdays. Coach B.L. Lippert, though, has noticed a reluctance among his players to buy into the thought of a return to play after being let down last season.

“Some kids are probably a little reticent to get too excited because they’re maybe a little bit gunshy, like ‘Jeez, this feels familiar,’ ” said Lippert, who’s also been running the Maine Elite Passing Camp this week. “There’s a little bit of hesitancy, I’m sure, for some kids. Other kids are all in and ready to go, and I think I sense a trepidation for some kids to put themselves out there again.

“I think when double sessions start, as they should, on Aug. 16, it’ll feel just absolutely back to normal.”

Lippert and Cony aren’t alone. Gardiner coach Pat Munzing also said it’s been tough for the players to forget what happened last season.

Mount View’s RJ Chadwick, front, can’t hold on to the ball as Maranacook defenders converge during a 7-on-7 flag football game last season in Thorndike. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

“There’s a lot of optimism, but because of that rug being pulled out from under us last year, there’s this underlying hesitancy to really engage and accept the fact that they’re going to have a fall season,” he said. “They’re still hurt by what happened last year. … We’ve talked to them about it, how things are different now, but some of that same rhetoric was being brought forth last year. They really want to believe it, and I think truly they do, but they’re still hesitant, some of them.”

Munzing’s team likewise has been busy, however, running 7-on-7 for two weeks and holding a practice session with Lewiston. The Tigers and Blue Devils used the practice to help each other work against specific schemes, which Munzing said provided a unique twist.

“(It) was kind of like the pros do it, with a kind of service period with us playing what they wanted for a defense, which matched up really well on both sides,” he said. “What they wanted to see for a defense is what we play, and what we wanted to see out of a defense is what they play. It worked out really well for us and them.”

Skowhegan will be busy as well. The River Hawks just wrapped up their own camp, and will be hosting 7-on-7 sessions against Mt. Blue and Lawrence on July 11, 18 and 25.

Skowhegan also got excellent turnout for its camp, bringing in between 60 and 65 players. Coach Ryan Libby said he’s seen no limit to the optimism from his players.

“This year, enthusiasm’s kind of through the roof,” Libby said. “They know now they’re playing football. It’s not a waiting game. We had a great week and it was nice to see the kids and see them smile and work out without masks, all the normal type things.”

As Libby said, it beats where he and the team were last year at this time.

“I just remember spending a whole year trying to cheerlead,” he said. “I felt pessimistic, but I tried not to bring that to the kids. … But eventually you get to the end of July, you get to August, and they’re old enough, they’re smart enough to figure it out.

“This year, everybody’s through the roof. The kids can’t wait to play.”

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