PORTLAND – He’s had to, at times, singlehandedly lead his team to victory. He’s faced entire defenses geared to stop only him. And on top of all that, he’s been asked to play almost every offensive skill position on the field.
But for Nate Sergent of Gardiner High School, Sunday night proved to be the ultimate challenge.
Sergent, who was named the winner of the 27th James J. Fitzpatrick Trophy, found that facing a 240-pound linebacker might be preferable to delivering a speech in front of almost 200 people at the award banquet.
“I had trouble eating. We were wishing they’d handed out the award before dinner because I had a little trouble eating and a little trouble speaking in front of a large crowd,” said Sergent, the beads of perspiration still visible on his forehead and face.
Sergent beat out fellow finalists Tommy Waterman of Bangor and Rob Kierstead of South Portland for the award to become the first player from Gardiner to win the trophy.
“Just being here is a tremendous honor for me,” said Waterman who played against Sergent twice this year. “I’m not disappointed losing it, especially to Nate. He’s just a great football player.”
Only two other Gardiner players have been Fitzy finalists: Jim Leclair, the Pine Tree Conference’s first finalist, in 1987, and Chris Whelan in 1992.
Gardiner coach Rob Munzing said Sergent’s honor provided much-needed good news for the Gardiner area, which hasn’t had much of that since the recent ice storm set in.
“We’re just tickled pink he won,” said Munzing. “I know I speak for everybody that’s still got problems in our area and couldn’t get down here, we are just so pleased for Nate and our program.”
Sergent is the fourth PTC player to win the Fitzy in the last five years.
The award, named for former Portland High School football coach and athletic director Fitzpatrick, is presented annually to the state’s best senior football player who also stands out in the classroom and community.
Sergent was Mr. Versatility for Gardiner as he led the Tigers to a PTC championship and a spot in the Class A state championship game.
Sergent lined up as a halfback, tailback, tight end, and quarterback in addition to his primary duties as starting wide receiver and safety.
The 5-10, 175-pound, three-year starter, who apologized for stumbling over some words during his acceptance speech by saying “Sorry, I screwed up” didn’t screw up much during his senior season.
He caught 34 passes for 886 yards and eighth touchdowns and accounted for 1,538 all-purpose yards this season.
During the regular season, Sergent rushed 44 times for 329 yards two touchdowns and completed all five of his passes for 157 yards, three touchdowns, and no interceptions while stepping in for injured tailback Mike Madore and quarterback Tim Bonenfant.
Waterman capped his senior season with the school’s first regular-season PTC title after rushing for 1,070 yards on 96 carries and completing 17 of 51 passes for 375 yards, seven touchdowns, and just two interceptions.
The 5-10, 170-pound Waterman finished the season with 1,139 yards on 110 carries, another 542 yards on 22-for-61 passing, and more than 1,900 all-purpose yards while leading the Rams to a third straight PTC championship game appearance.
The last finalist for the award from Bangor was Mark Lewis in 1984. Three Bangor players have won the trophy: Pat Phillippon in 1979, Mike Edwards in 1975, and Pete McCarty in 1973.
The 6-foot, 226-pound Kierstead helped lead his Riots to two straight Class A state titles (1995 and ’96) and three Western Maine final appearances. South Portland lost only two games in his three seasons as a starter.
To be eligible for the Fitzy, a player must be nominated by his school. Each football-playing school in Maine has one nomination.
From there, a selection committee made up of former college and high school football coaches, school administrators, and media representatives picked 10 semifinalists from the nominees and those semifinalists were voted on by coaches and members of the media.
All three Fitzpatrick finalists will be teammates, of sorts, next year as they will all be attending the University of Maine at Orono. Both Kierstead and Sergent will continue playing football there while Waterman will play basketball.
Fitzpatrick Trophy winners
1997 – Nate Sergent Gardiner
1996 – Dustin Ireland Mt. Blue
1995 – Joe D’Andrea Portland
1994 – Jeremy Tardiff Oxford Hills
1993 – Mike Hamel Waterville
1992 – Bert Rich South Portland
1991 – Art Leveris Thornton
1990 – John St. Onge Biddeford
1989 – Steve Knight Marshwood
1988 – Kirk Matthieu Lawrence
1987 – Brian Seguin Lewiston
1986 – Bob Giroux Thornton
1985 – Gerry Gelinas Biddeford
1984 – Scott Woodward Biddeford
1983 – Shaun Hawkins Portland
1982 – Mike Rutherford Portland
1981 – Dan Federico South Portland
1980 – Claude Leclair Biddeford
1979 – Pat Philippon Bangor
1978 – Tony Matoin Sanford
1977 – Gerry Raymond Lewiston
1976 – Paul Belanger Sanford
1975 – Mike Edwards Bangor
1974 – Josh Waldman Waterville
1973 – Pete McCarty Bangor
1972 – Marty Milligan Rumford
1971 – Ron Marchand Biddeford