Football: Greely fields its own team after three years as a co-op

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CUMBERLAND — For the first time in nearly four years, Greely High football is officially back.

After three years of joining a co-op with Falmouth to allow a handful of Greely students to play, Rangers returned for 2022 as an eight-man standalone programme. Instead of wearing blue and yellow, Rangers may go back to wearing their traditional brown and black uniforms with the distinctive Texas Ranger-style star on the helmet.

They can play on their pitch on Friday evening. And have their own big dreams.

His bangs plastered to his forehead with sweat after Monday night’s 90-minute practice, junior linebacker/fullback Brayden VanPembrook smiled when asked what his goals were for this season.

“Gold Ball,” he said, indicating his desire to win a state championship.

“I just play for hometown. For all my friends and family in the stands,” linebacker and running back Luke Jackson said. “Getting that energy from the crowd. In Falmouth it was more for the Falmouth kids and we were just kind of there to help out.

As with high school athletes across the state in all fall sports, Monday was the first official day of preseason practice.

Greely’s football had two practices, one at 7 a.m. and then an early evening session. Twenty-six players were on the field at Twin Brook Recreation Area Monday night under coach Caleb King, a 2011 Greely graduate and four-year starter at Husson.

“I think day one went well because we had a lot of energy,” King said. “Guys were flying, excited to be here. It was a great first day. I grew up here all my life. I went to school here. I played football here, left and played in college. Having the opportunity to come back and coach football at Greely is super exciting.

Twenty-eight players attended the morning session. Three other players had previous commitments and apologized on Monday. King said he expects 30 players to attend Tuesday’s double sessions. If Greely can maintain a roster of this size, he can expect to play a varsity and junior varsity schedule, a key part of building a program. It would also be a bigger roster than Greely often had during his 11-man football days, which ended after the 2018 season.

“I remember in high school we usually had 22 or 24 players,” King said.

VanPembrook was the main driver of a player-initiated movement that convinced the Greely administration that the time was right. He said he knew that if co-op continued, there would only be around eight Greely players who would have played, as had been the case in previous seasons.

“This season, the return of Greely football is not so much for us,” VanPembrook said. “I have the impression that it is to continue. The biggest problem is getting it started.

“If we can inspire these little kids, okay, to play football and go for it, then hopefully they’ll join in and we can bring it back to an 11-man team,” Jackson said.

The last time Rangers played at home they dressed 19 players but managed to beat Biddeford 22-14 in a Class B South quarter-final. The game epitomized what was both good and bad about Greely football.

Under former coach David Higgins, Greely has established a reputation as a hard-hitting and competitive team in a tough Class B league despite consistently low attendance numbers. About four months after Higgins retired with a 10-year record of 51-43 in 2018, following a 5-5 season, the decision was made to form a co-op with Falmouth. In 2019 and 2021 (no season in 2020), around eight Greely players traveled to training at Falmouth and wore the blue and gold uniform of their former acrhrival.

Greely is part of the big eight-man school’s Southern Division, along with Gray-New Gloucester, Lake Region, Mt. Ararat/Hyde, Spruce Mountain and Yarmouth/NYA. The Rangers must face each of their divisional enemies once. Games against Large School teams North Waterville and Morse round out a seven-game regular season.

Cheverus, the defending big school champion at eight, has returned to football at 11 and will be in Class C South this season.

Greely opens the season at Gray-NG on Friday, September 2. Greely’s first home college football game since 2018 is Friday, September 9 against Waterville.

None of Greely’s players played eight-a-side football. Then again, most of them never played football in high school. That’s why King said the main challenge at the start would be getting kids comfortable with the basics of football, not going from an 11-player to an eight-player. A scrimmage at Boothbay on Monday and an exhibition game at Old Orchard Beach will be the first steps.

“Rebuilding that football knowledge and just having confidence,” King said. “The confidence in themselves and their teammates that we can be good.”


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