ELLSWORTH — Paul Lock isn’t afraid to be unconventional, and the Ellsworth boys’ soccer team knows it.
It was late in the afternoon, and Lock was watching his team conclude its daily practice. After about 10 minutes, he hatched an idea — an unorthodox one, perhaps, but one that would test the Eagles’ sense of preparation.
As the team went through three-on-three drills, Lock began to gather stray soccer balls the team had used earlier in practice. After he had gathered about 10 balls into a pile, he started throwing them onto field one by one.
“Go!” Lock shouted. “Everybody go!”
His players looked confused for a brief moment, but they quickly improvised. Just as the Eagles had done in three-on-three drills before, they focused on gaining possession and dribbling past one another.
“That’s what I like to see,” Lock told his team. “You never know for sure what’s coming at you, but you’ve got to be ready for it.”
Indeed, Lock, who took over as Ellsworth’s coach in July, has this Ellsworth team ready for whatever gets thrown its way. He’s replacing a legend — his predecessor, Brian Higgins, coached the team for 42 years and won a state-record 566 games — but he’s not afraid to introduce his own flair to the program.
“You always have to be on your toes,” Lock said. “If you let your guard down, you’re not going to get very far. You can’t always predict, but you can certainly react.”
Lock previously taught and coached soccer at the elementary and middle school level in Ellsworth from 1992 until 2014. He also developed a longstanding relationship with Higgins at Ellsworth’s Bootin’ Eagle camps, which the two had coached together since Lock first came to the middle school.
Many current members of Ellsworth’s team are players Lock coached and taught before they reached the varsity level. For those players, one of whom is senior Colby Clarke, familiarity won’t be an issue.
“It’s kind of easier because he’s someone we’ve known for a while,” Clarke said. “A lot of those drills, we’ve been doing them since we were in middle school with him, and he still always adds new tricks and twists to them.”
A different twist has come in the team’s playing style. Lock prefers his own style of play, which Clarke said is more open and free-flowing, over Higgins’ more compact, tightly organized formations.
It’s an adjustment that will take time for some, but the team as a whole has enjoyed learning and implementing something new.
“With Higgins, we used to focus on playing down the wing, crosses, throw-ins and set pieces,” Clarke said. “Mr. Lock wants us to be a bit more open and use the middle [of the field] a little more, which I like. It’s got more of a European style to it.”
Like most schoolteachers, Lock has the uncanny ability to see everything at once. He notices certain plays unfold before his players make them, and he’s quick to give coaching advice or give players feedback on mistakes a split second after they occur. Even with nearly two dozen players on the field at once, there’s little that escapes him.
“He sees things we wouldn’t even think about,” Ellsworth senior Wyatt Alexander said. “His creativity, it’s just incredible. Mentally, it challenges us, but it’s also an exciting change.”
Lock will coach his first official game Saturday, Sept. 3, when Ellsworth hosts Caribou at Del Luce Stadium. The game will take place following the conclusion of the girls’ team’s 1 p.m. game, which also is against Caribou.
When Ellsworth kicks off that day, it will be a different moment for the program. After 42 years with Higgins, the transition wasn’t necessarily going to be easy. Yet Ellsworth’s players feel the adjustment to a new coach was about as smooth as it could have been, and they’re embracing the changes Lock has brought to the team.
Lock will be the first to admit his new role comes with some added pressure, but no one wants to get the season started more than he does.
“I’ve been thinking of that day for a while,” he said. “I couldn’t be more thankful to the people here for having confidence that I can take on such a big role. We can’t wait to get out there and show that Ellsworth soccer isn’t going anywhere.”