Brunswick coaches talk to each other as a few players get some rest during a an Aug. 27 preseason game at Messalonskee. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

BRUNSWICK — Sept. 24, 2021, began as a day that Collin McCaffrey had long anticipated. It concluded as one he and his teammates would greatly rue.

McCaffrey, a running back for the Brunswick football team, was in class in the early afternoon of Sept. 24, 2021, several hours before the Dragons were set to kick off their homecoming football game against Lawrence. Then, suddenly, the football team was called in for a meeting that marked the beginning of a months-long nightmare for a storied program.

“We were all wearing our jerseys and were pumped up, ready for the game and getting into that mindset,” McCaffrey said. “Then, they called down the whole team to the conference room and said we weren’t going to be playing our homecoming game that night and that we wouldn’t be practicing Monday.”

Superintendent Phil Potenziano had announced a pause to the program as a result of an investigation into allegations of hazing, bullying and harassment among team players during a preseason team retreat at Thomas Point Beach in Brunswick.

Then, on Oct. 6, the Brunswick School Department announced it had canceled the rest of the high school football team’s season and fired longtime coach Dan Cooper in the wake of its hazing investigation. Several players had also been removed from the team. The Dragons, who had played in five of the previous six Class B state championship games, were 1-3 at the time of the shutdown.

The suspension of the season led to questions regarding the future of the program.


Maine Principals’ Association rules stipulate that a varsity team that fails to complete its schedule is barred from competition for the following two years. The rules provided exceptions for COVID-related shutdowns. 

Faced with a two-year ban, Brunswick filed an appeal with the MPA in mid-December 2021 to have its football program reinstated. Brunswick won its appeal in January, putting in motion a return to the sidelines this fall.

“I felt confident with (the appeal), and our administrative team felt confident, but there’s always that little bit of nervousness when you leave your fate into someone else’s hands,” said Brunswick Athletic Director Aaron Watson. “Our reasoning was that we wanted to provide our student-athletes with a great experience, the MPA gave us that opportunity, and we’re glad to have it.”

Three months after winning the appeal, Brunswick hired a new head coach, Brandon Dorsett. Dorsett, a 2005 Portland High graduate, spent the 2019 and 2021 seasons as Westbrook head coach after years of holding various assistant-coaching roles in Maine and one as linebackers coach at IMG Academy in Florida.

There’s rebuilding for Dorsett to do at Brunswick following the loss of a 17-member senior class, as well as the loss of meaningful game experience resulting from last season’s abrupt end. Dorsett, whose team showed growing pains in a 66-0 loss to Messalonskee in a preseason clash Saturday, isn’t shying away from that challenge.

The Brunswick and Messalonskee football teams compete during an Aug. 27 preseason game in Oakland. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

“We have a good group of kids that are really young, and a lot of them are new to football, too,” Dorsett said. “Right now, we’re just trying to teach them the basics, have some fun and put the best foot forward. We know we’re a year or two away from making some serious noise, but you’ve got to work your way through it.”


Brunswick has 30 players on its roster, a number that’s grown from the mid-20s with the start of school giving slight bumps to fall sports teams everywhere. Still, that’s a noticeable decrease from last year, when the Dragons began the season with a roster in the mid-40s.

Watson declined to comment when asked if last year’s hazing scandal resulted in a drop in turnout.

However, he did acknowledge Brunswick considered making a move to eight-man football as concerns with numbers mounted. However, he said, they ultimately felt comfortable that the numbers it had were enough for the Dragons to safely field a team in Class B this fall.

“Our numbers are a little bit lower, but we’re going to hang on to both our varsity and our JV schedules,” Watson said. “For our varsity schedule, I don’t see a scenario where we don’t finish the season, and with our JV, we’re just going to play it by ear in terms of the attrition of numbers and if anybody gets hurt.”

The Brunswick and Messalonskee football teams compete during an Aug. 27 preseason game in Oakland. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

With 20 underclassmen and some decent-sized classes in the pipeline at the middle school level, Watson said he also feels comfortable with Brunswick’s prospects in the years to come. 

Players say they’ve received remarkable community support since the program’s return was confirmed in January. 

“Brunswick is a big community, and you see that especially in football because there’s a lot of tradition here,” said senior offensive lineman Gavin Barbour. “We had a good turnout for being a long way away at (Messalonskee). … Everyone’s glad to see the Dragons back on the field.”

With the losses from last year, there’s not much experience back for Brunswick. At quarterback, the Dragons are led by Quinn McCaffrey, who started the team’s final game last year. The team also brings back Barbour on the offensive line and Parker Stanchfield at wide receiver.

“These kids are hungry and want to play, and that’s half the battle,” said Dorsett, whose team opens the season Sept. 2 at Mt. Blue High in Farmington. “There’s still a championship culture, and what we need to do now is build on that culture. That’s something that happens one practice at time.”

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