OAKLAND — It’s not the place he coaches anymore, but for two days this week, Messalonskee High is John Hersom’s part-time home.

Hersom, the Lawrence football coach who previously was at Messalonskee, is spending part of the season’s final week here as the Bulldogs practice on the turf. It’s a good way for Lawrence to prepare for the surface at Fitzpatrick Stadium in Portland, site of the Class B final Saturday.

Lawrence (8-2) and Kennebunk (9-1) are scheduled to kick off at 2:30 p.m. for the Gold Ball. 

“I still live in Sidney, so I’ll still come over here and jog this track every once in a while,” said Hersom, 64, now in his 18th season as Lawrence’s head coach after leading Messalonskee from 1992-2002. “The field looks a lot different now, but it’s interesting (practicing back here now that I’m at Lawrence).”

What isn’t different after all these years is that Hersom is still coaching championship-caliber teams. Although much has changed in Maine high school football over the last three decades, his teams’ consistency hasn’t budged.

After coaching Morse from 1986-89, Hersom, who played at Edward Little and the University of Maine, took an assistant role at Messalonskee. After two years, he was promoted to head coach, where he would go 57-49 over 11 seasons. The program, which had struggled previously, made six playoff appearances with Hersom at the helm.


“He was somebody who was straightforward and somebody you could always trust,” said Blair Doucette, Messalonskee’s current head coach and the quarterback under Hersom from 1994-95. “He was such a great role model. I’ve said before that those days were some of my best memories, and I owe that to him.”

Hersom’s success was only beginning. In 18 seasons at Lawrence, his Bulldogs have won five Eastern/Northern Maine championships and made 10 regional title game appearances. The Bulldogs also won the state title in 2006, defeating Gorham 14-13 to claim the fourth Gold Ball in program history.

Although Hersom is by no means a screamer, his practices do have a particular intensity to them. Michael Hamlin, Lawrence’s current starting quarterback, says that Hersom still coaches in his 40th year with the passion of a first-year coach. Gavin Lunt, a senior wide receiver and linebacker, said Hersom’s energy rubs off on the rest of the team.

Lawrence Head coach John Hersom, center, talks to players after Bulldogs won the Class B North football championship Saturday at Charlie’s Field at The Maxwell Athletic Complex in Winthrop. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

“He brings so much energy every day,” said Lunt. “It doesn’t matter if it’s the first day of practice or the last day of practice or summer workouts; he’s there early in the morning and late at night. He’s always there, and he motivates us and shows a lot of effort.”

At Messalonskee, Hersom would lift with his players, even showing up before anyone else to get in some reps. If he asked his players to run, he wouldn’t exempt himself, joining them for a mile around the track or a jog through the trails in the forest.

“There were a couple times when I went in early and was the only (player) there in the morning, and he’s already there with a coffee benching 225,” said Doucette, whom Hersom recommended for the Messalonskee job. “Here I am worried he’s not going to be able to get in that last rep, and I know that I can’t pull it off him.”


Hersom, his current and former players say, is the master of preparation. The Bulldogs don’t win every game, but when they lose, it’s rarely a result of a bad game plan or poor execution. One of the state’s longest-tenured coaches, he knows the ins and outs of his opponents and scouts those he doesn’t as well as anymore.

“The thing that comes to mind when I recall Hersom is his professionalism,” said Matt Workman, Messalonskee’s starting quarterback from 2001-02. “We were always very well prepared. He really approaches it like a college program. … He’s really my idol.”

An example of that came in the 2006 Class A state title game victory. The Bulldogs spent the week leading up to the game focusing heavily on special teams, and it paid off as Aaron Champagne blocked an extra point that proved to be the difference in the one-point victory over Gorham.

Lawrence Head coach John Hersom, center, on the sidelines during the Class B North football championship Saturday at Charlie’s Field at The Maxwell Athletic Complex in Winthrop. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

“We knew there was some vulnerability with their kicking game with extra points, and Coach Hersom designed a play that allowed us to block it,” Champagne recalled. “It came after repetition, repetition, repetition all week in practice. I think that just speaks to the guy he is; he always goes above and beyond in his preparation.”

It’s been evident this year, too. In the Bulldogs’ biggest league games against Cony and Messalonskee, Lawrence’s coverage schemes forced the Rams and Eagles into countless turnovers even as they moved the ball on occasion. The Bulldogs also exerted their physicality in those games, rushing for absurd yardage.

It’s the product of a coach who’s shown no signs of slowing down. As energetic young coaches with new philosophies and burning passions for football keep arriving in the Pine Tree Conference, Hersom’s Bulldogs are always keeping pace with those innovative newcomers in an ever-competitive league.

“The thing is, I still feel pretty young; I feel like I’ve got some stuff left,” said Hersom, the son of legendary former Edward Little head coach Lawrence “Doc” Hersom. “It’s year to year, definitely, but I’ll hopefully be able to keep my good health and be able to keep on doing it for some more years.”

Win or lose Saturday, another berth in a state championship game will only add to Hersom’s legacy. Lawrence will have the support of one of the state’s most passionate fan bases. Yet it won’t just be folks from Fairfield, Benton, Albion and Clinton cheering on the Bulldogs — plenty of the PTC will be behind them as well.

“Every single coach has the goal of being in the state championship, but if you asked all the coaches in the league who you’d want it to be if it couldn’t be you, I think everybody would say Coach Hersom,” Doucette said. “That’s a testament to his work ethic and attitude. He’s someone anyone would want to play for.”

Related Headlines

Comments are no longer available on this story