Ellsworth/Sumner head coach Duane Crawford speaks to his players at the start of evening practice Aug. 18 in Ellsworth. PHOTO BY MIKE MANDELL

Positive vibe (finally) surrounds Ellsworth/Sumner football team

ELLSWORTH — Andrew Brown remembers when an injury wasn’t such a bad option.

It was September 2014, and Brown was a freshman on the Ellsworth/Sumner football team. The team, which had ended 56 seasons without a football program just two years earlier, was 0-3 and en route to its third winless season in a row.

As the team concluded a practice session, Brown and then-teammate Devin Wright were joking with one another as the two walked off the field — “horsing around” as Brown called it. Then, Brown slipped on a muddy patch of grass and broke his ankle.

Ellsworth/Sumner football coach Duane Crawford looks on during his team’s evening practice Aug. 17 at Ellsworth High School. PHOTO BY MIKE MANDELL
Ellsworth/Sumner football coach Duane Crawford looks on during his team’s evening practice Aug. 17 in Ellsworth.

In another situation, the injury, which ended Brown’s season, would have been devastating. In this instance, that wasn’t necessarily the case.

“Part of me was kind of thankful I broke it,” said Brown, who’s now a junior playing wingback and safety for the Eagles. “[That season] was so frustrating, and it was just hard to keep confidence on that team.”

Fast forward three years, and the difference in the Ellsworth/Sumner football team’s attitude couldn’t be more apparent. The Eagles are coming off a 5-3 season and are looking to make another statement in their final season without playoff eligibility before the makes the move from Class D to Class C in 2017.

This year, when Brown and his teammates are sweating through two-a-day practices on muggy August days, there’s a sense of capability and attainment. The players direct each other with confidence, and practices move smoothly and efficiently in the buildup to the first game of the season against Mattanawcook Academy on Sept. 2.

“I remember when I used to come out and watch the team play in eighth grade, and it’s just so much better [now],” sophomore safety and wide receiver Javon Williams said. “We’re going through the plays like it’s nothing, and that used to take forever. We’ve also picked up the intensity on defense.”

In past years, Ellsworth/Sumner would begin each season without a sense of progress. Going three full years without a win left the Eagles with a constant empty feeling, and the improvements coaches and players sought weren’t made very often.

Once the team finally got over that hump last year by beating Washington Academy 22-8 in its second game, though, the victories kept coming and the confidence kept building. Now that the Eagles know they can win, their losing past has gradually been forgotten.

“For the first time, we aren’t really talking about the years before where we weren’t very good,” Brown said. “We want to think of ourselves as a competitive team in this conference, and that mindset wasn’t really there before.”

In the brief few years since the football program’s revival, it’s been hard to paint the team as an opportunity for success. The athletics scene at Ellsworth High School has revolved more around the school’s more successful boys’ soccer and basketball programs, both of which have played in state championship games in recent years.

More success on the football field could soon change that. Players on the team noticed more spectators sitting on the hill next to the football stadium last season than in previous ones, and they’ve also earned the respect of the school’s more traditionally successful programs.

Ellsworth/Sumner running back Jacob Shorey spins past teammate Keith Jordan during evening practice Aug. 18 at Ellsworth High School. PHOTO BY MIKE MANDELL
Ellsworth/Sumner running back Jacob Shorey spins past teammate Keith Jordan during evening practice Aug. 18 in Ellsworth.

“It used to be that the soccer players would get all the attention, and we were reminded of that all the time,” senior lineman Keith Jordan said. “Now that we’ve started winning, we’re putting ourselves in that conversation.”

Other schools are taking notice, too. In addition to Washington Academy, Ellsworth/Sumner’s other wins in 2015 came against Stearns, Camden Hills, Houlton and Dexter, although the victory after Camden Hills was the result of a forfeit. The Eagles didn’t play Camden Hills or Houlton in 2014, but the other three beat them by a combined 62 points.

“Whenever I went to camps, I’d hear kids from the other schools we played say, ‘Hey, you guys did really well last year,’” Williams said. “In past years, we were just a mop-up game. They would throw in whoever they wanted and beat us.”

What changed? One positive development was that Wright, whom coach Duane Crawford said was the conference’s top running back, broke through. After a less-than-stellar 2014 season, Wright rushed for over 1,500 yards, including 398 against Houlton. Elsewhere, the Eagles were much improved on the offensive and defensive lines.

Yet even though Ellsworth/Sumner will play nine games instead of eight this year, repeating last season’s five-win campaign will be challenging. The Eagles will have to find a replacement for Wright, who graduated in June and will play football at Husson University in Bangor. The team could also face some issues with its roster size if it has to deal with numerous defections and injuries, both of which can become common over the course of a season.

“We’re definitely ahead of where we were last year with everything, but we’re thin at all the positions,” coach Duane Crawford said. “We’ve got 28 on the team right now. I was expecting to have in the mid-30s.”

Replacing Wright and dealing with depth concerns could determine how successful Ellsworth/Sumner is this year, but the Eagles have endured worse.

At the very least, there almost certainly won’t be anyone wishing for a premature end to the season this time around.

“I think this is the most confident we’ve been since I’ve been here,” Brown said. “We might not be going to the playoffs, but we’re ready to win, and we’ve proven to ourselves and to everybody that we can.”

Mike Mandell

Mike Mandell

Mike Mandell is the sports editor at The Ellsworth American and Mount Desert Islander. He began working for The American in August 2016. You can reach him via email at [email protected]

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