Mount Desert Island football Coach Mark Shields leads players through drills at the team’s first practice of the season Aug. 14 in Bar Harbor. MDI is hoping to build on last season’s Northern Maine championship. ISLANDER PHOTO BY MIKE MANDELL

Football team builds on strong foundation

BAR HARBOR — The sun had barely risen behind Mount Desert Island High School, but Mark Shields and his Trojan football team were on the practice field early.

It was 6:15 a.m. on a Monday, and Shields, MDI’s coach of 15 years now, was leading players through drills at the team’s first two-a-day session of the season. Everyone was drenched in sweat and breathing heavily. But with their coach leading the way, nobody was even thinking about quitting.

As the practice concluded, players gravitated toward the middle of the field, where they waited for their coach to join them and wrap up their morning. As Shields walked over, he took a look at the mountains of Acadia National Park in the distance.

“You’ve got to appreciate this,” Shields said as he walked over from the sidelines. “What a scene for these boys to prove themselves once again.”

MDI has a lot of talent to replace if it wants to do so, but the team also has plenty of experience. The Trojans posted their best season in school history last year by going 9-2 and winning the Class C North title. The team has high expectations once again in 2017.

“I think our team is in an interesting position because we’ve had two great senior classes between this year and last year,” Shields said. “Some of our newer faces have to step up right away, and I’ve been telling them that, going around and saying, ‘Hey, we need you this year.’”

MDI’s Colby Butler attempts a field goal during practice Aug. 14 in Bar Harbor. ISLANDER PHOTO BY MIKE MANDELL

Offensively is where MDI finds itself in the best shape this year. In addition to Andrew Phelps returning at quarterback, the Trojans also bring back all five starters on the offensive line.

In the backfield, seniors Colby Lee and Croix Albee are back to lead MDI’s rushing attack. Albee was one of the team’s top performers at running back last season before suffering a season-ending ACL tear in the team’s week seven win against Oceanside.

“We have a lot of weapons back on offense,” Albee said. “From top to bottom, these guys have put in the work all offseason. Right now, it’s about technique and getting ready to roll in these early practices.”

On defense, the Trojans must replace several key contributors from last year’s team. Among those players are Graham Good and Chris Farnsworth, who were named Big 10 All-Conference selections in Class C last year.

How MDI replaces those players will go a long way to determining the team’s success. The Trojans’ defense was one the state’s best last year, allowing only 20 points in their final three games of the Class C North slate and posting shutouts against Belfast and Hermon in week two and week four, respectively.

“I think we’re in a good spot right now [defensively], but we can obviously get a lot better,” Lee said. “This early practices and scrimmages are a chance to do that and get back to where we were last year.”

The Trojans’ first game is on the road against a Winslow team that won back-to-back Class C championships in 2014 and 2015 before the Trojans ended their hopes at a third-straight title last season.

Even though MDI ended the Black Raiders’ streak last year, that doesn’t mean beating them this time around will be any easier. Winslow still dealt the Trojans their only regular-season loss last year and has not lost a home game since Sept. 8, 2012.

MDI also faces well-rounded Bucksport and MCI teams on the road and finishes the season at home against a Nokomis squad that played last season in Class B. A win against Winslow would prove the Trojans are ready for those challenges.

“It’s tough to start the season with a team like that, and we have to be prepared for it,” Shields said. “We have what I think is the toughest schedule we’ve ever had, but I also think this is a good group to take on that task.”

MDI’s first preseason scrimmage is at home against Hampden Academy on Monday, Aug. 21, at 10 a.m.. The team also plays on the road against Ellsworth-Sumner on Aug. 25 at 7 p.m.

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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