Thornton's Andrew Libby commits to UMass

Connections can change your life. Andrew Libby found his connection from painting houses with his father.

MaineLibby’s a senior at Thornton Academy, and was Maine’s Gatorade Football Player of the Year as a junior before missing most of his senior season with a knee injury. He was trying to decide on a college, and in the second week of January, he discovered that a man he and his dad paint houses for knew someone at the University of Massachusetts. That led to a college visit, and shortly thereafter, Libby verbally committed to play football at UMass.

“It just felt like the right place,” Libby said. “All the coaches were nice to me, and the campus was beautiful.”

In UMass, Libby is joining a program that went 1-11 in each of the last two seasons and fired its head coach in December. Thornton won the state championship when Libby was a junior and still reached the regional final without him this fall.

“I’ve always been in favor of being an underdog,” Libby said. “It gives us an incentive to set our goals high.”

Thornton had no chance of being an underdog with Libby in the lineup this fall.

As a junior, he carried the ball only 151 times, but still gained over 1,000 yards. Coach Kevin Kezal planned to give Libby the ball more often and in about every way possible. Libby was going to play fullback sometimes, Wildcat quarterback other times, and split wide as a receiver just to mix things up. Kezal even planned to keep Libby – a natural linebacker -- at free safety, in part because he would be so active on offense.

“He would have done a little bit of everything for us,” Kezal said.

But everything changed about five minutes into the first regular season game against South Portland. Libby broke a kickoff return down the right sideline.

“He had about a 50-yard kick return, and he got hit high and low at the same time, and he tore his ACL,” Kezal said.

The Golden Trojans lost that game, and Libby missed the rest of the season. He still showed up at most practices, and he uses an F-word you don’t usually associate with rehab.

“It’s actually been a lot of fun on the way,” Libby said. “Every time I came in, I was like a little kid on Christmas Day. There was always something new, and I was excited to do it.

“Right now, I’m actually pretty close to full strength,” Libby added. “I’ve already been running around. I’ve already been cutting.”

Kezal speaks highly of Libby, and part of the reason is the way Libby reacted to his injury.

“As good a football player as he is, he’s a better person,” Kezal said. “(For) the coaching staff, the players, and the community, it was hard to deal with. Andrew dealt with it better than anybody.”

Like Libby said, he has always favored being the underdog, and he’s one now. He’s a native of a state not known for producing high-level football prospects, although he can look at a player like Quinton Porter, who went on to Boston College and a career in the Canadian Football League.

“He’s set a goal that he wants to,” Kezal said, when asked about Libby playing at UMass. “I’m sure he’ll do everything in his power to be able to. He knows it’s a tough road. He’s excited about the challenge.”

For Libby, the first part of that goal is showing up at practice and proving to the coaches that he can play fullback or H-back in their offense.

“I’m going to set my goals high,” Libby said. “I’m going to take it step by step. My dream is to win a Heisman. With the team, a national championship. That’d be a story in its own.”

How many kids dream of winning the Heisman Trophy, or playing in the NFL? How many people just wish someone else would believe in their dream?

“I’ve had a dream ever since I was a kid to play Division I football,” Libby said, “and my big dream is to play at the next level. I was very happy to know that there was a team out there that would give me a chance to prove that I could play Division I football.”