ELLSWORTH — Nearly four years after they put on helmets and pads for their first varsity practices as freshman, five Hancock County football players are ready to do so one last time for a noble cause.
Since Ellsworth High School marked its return to the gridiron as part of a cooperative agreement with Sumner Memorial High School in 2012, students at four of Hancock County’s six high schools have been eligible to play varsity football. With more opportunities for students to play, success has followed for each of the area’s three high school football programs.
“I think we’re the most slept-on county in the state,” Ellsworth senior Javon Williams said. “None of our schools are huge schools that have a bunch of kids transfer to come in and play, but we have a lot of football players that have big work ethics and can hold our own.”
This summer, five Hancock County players will get chances to prove that. With Williams, Bucksport’s Tyson Gray and Carter Tolmasoff and Mount Desert Island’s Elijah Joyce and Gilbert Isaacs selected to play in the 30th Shrine Lobster Bowl, Hancock County is ready to prove its worth in the all-star showdown.
“We’ve just had some good teams and good players these past few years,” Tolmasoff said. “Whether it’s people like Javon and I or anyone else, we’ve played against each other and are always pushing each other to get better even though we play for different teams. It’s like a brotherhood.”
The Lobster Bowl, which is held each July to benefit 22 Shrine Hospitals for children across North America, functions as a sendoff game for the top seniors from the previous fall. Each football program in Maine selects at least one player to participate in an East vs. West showdown played at Thornton Academy in Saco.
With so many talented seniors from across the state taking part, many players can’t play their preferred positions. That’s just fine for Williams, who has received a variety of All-Little Ten Conference selections with his strong play at the skill positions on offense and in the secondary on defense.
“Part of being a team player is being able to do whatever your team needs you to do,” said Williams, who was part of an Ellsworth/Sumner team that won its first game in program history Sept. 12, 2015. That game was the turning point for a program that would go on to win 13 more games over the next four years and earn its first playoff appearance in 2017.
Williams will be heading to Colby College this fall to play football under former University of Maine head coach Jack Cosgrove. Thanks to the Lobster Bowl, Williams will get one last chance to represent Ellsworth High School before that when he suits up for the East squad.
“Coach [Duane Crawford] always talked to me about being a pillar for the program and being the kid who would step up and be a role model for everybody else,” Williams said. “It’s always been my biggest goal to go out and represent my school with class as best as I can, and this is one last chance for me to do that.”
Bucksport, which competed with Ellsworth/Sumner in the Little Ten Conference for seven seasons prior to the latter’s recent drop to the eight-man ranks, rode a high-octane offense to back-to-back Class D North championship in 2017 and 2018. Gray made a name for himself with at wide receiver and defensive back, and Tolmasoff was named LTC Player of the Year this season after rushing for 1,660 yards and 25 touchdowns.
Football is a storied tradition at Bucksport, which boasts six straight titles overall. With each football program in the state sending at least one player to the Lobster Bowl, spaces are limited, and the honor that comes with being the Golden Bucks’ annual selection is a special kind of privilege.
“You talk to other people who played for Bucksport in the Lobster Bowl before, and they say what a great experience it was,” Tolmasoff said. “It’s an honor to come through the Bucksport program, and to finish it off like this and get the chance to help people with the money we raise is something I’m really excited about.”
MDI has also had its share of success in recent seasons, winning the Northern Maine championship in 2016 and finishing as regional runner-up in 2017. The team went 18-4 in that two-year span before finishing 3-5 in a loaded Class C North field this past season.
Much of MDI’s success has come thanks to the team’s prolific ground game and size and strength in the trenches. Joyce (1,560 rushing yards and 19 rushing touchdowns) and Isaacs (Big 11 Conference Co-Lineman of the Year) excelled in those aspects of the game, but MDI head coach Mark Arnold knows the Lobster Bowl is about much more than that.
“[Being nominated for this award] speaks to much more than your abilities as a football player,” Arnold said. “This is about raising money for those hospitals and really making a difference in people’s lives, and Elijah and Gilbert are two people who are going to do that.”
Before game day, each player must raise $500 for Shrine Hospitals. Then, on July 20, Williams, Gray, Tolmasoff, Joyce and Isaacs will represent Hancock County and their respective high schools one final time.
“I don’t think I’ll ever be able to replace the Friday night lights here, and it’s going to be fun for the five of us to play for our communities and lace our cleats up for one more,” Williams said. “No matter what, Hancock County and EHS will always be home.”