DEXTER – The first time Dexter High football kicker Dan Beatham was tackled in a game, the hit caught him off guard.
“I just got leveled,” he said. “They got me good. Everybody was screaming.”
Paul Shaw wasn’t happy about it, either.
Shaw, the Dexter High soccer coach, was on the sidelines when his top scorer was hit after booting an extra-point attempt. The late hit drew a flag.
“This kid cheap-shotted him,” Shaw said. “Not once, but twice.”
Then there was the game during which Beatham picked up a poorly snapped ball and ran with it 10 yards. He was tackled out of bounds, bringing about another penalty.
“Coach Shaw and I both almost had cardiac arrests,” Tigers football coach Tim Wilson said. “Dan’s aggressive so you can’t take it out of him, but you know, that’s when you think, is this the right thing to do?”
It’s a question Shaw and Wilson have come to terms with since Beatham, a Dexter senior, has started playing both soccer and football for the Tigers this season. He has found a way to make it work, attending practices in both sports and participating in games while keeping up his classroom work.
The coaches see the decision to let Beatham play as giving a young man a chance to excel in a talent no one knew he had until Wilson saw Beatham kicking during soccer practice one day.
But they also understand the dangers both physically to Beatham and to the prospects of the school’s soccer team.
While the Dexter football squad has struggled to a 2-5 record heading into today’s 1 p.m. home game against Bucksport, the defending Eastern Maine Class C champion soccer team has excelled. The Tigers wrapped up the season with a 9-3-2 record, earned the No. 2 seed for the Eastern Maine Class C playoffs, and will begin postseason play today hosting a 10 a.m. quarterfinal against No. 10 George Stevens of Blue Hill.
The rugged, 5-foot-11 Beatham has been a big part of that success. After spending his sophomore season on defense, Beatham moved up to the front line, where he scored a school-record 19 goals as a junior. He’s sitting at 19 and five assists this season.
Beatham has been called on to kick in four football games and has made eight of his 12 extra-point attempts. He hasn’t yet converted a field goal in a game.
“I just went out and tried football and liked it,” said the lefty kicker, for whom a right knee injury hasn’t held him out of a game in either sport. “I kept with it.”
Wilson first noticed Beatham just casually kicking a ball one afternoon.
The coach liked what he saw. Although most of his coaching experience in Maine has come in football, Wilson watched his share of soccer in his 14 years working at Seeds of Peace, an Otisfield-based camp created in 1993 with the goal of bringing together Israeli and Arab teens.
During Wilson’s first coaching stint at Dexter from 1966 to 1971, he had two former Nokomis of Newport soccer players, twin brothers Peter and Paul Wintle, who decided to forgo their senior year of soccer to play football at Dexter. Wilson has seen high schoolers in other states play both sports at the same time, but no one in Maine, in his experience.
Wilson equated Beatham’s ability – and potential – to that of Steve Aponavicius, a high school soccer player who took over the kicking duties at Boston College this season as a walk-on when the starter was suspended.
“Is this kid in that same caliber? Yeah, easy,” Wilson said of Beatham. “He’s just doing it, and he’s just beginning to get the technique. Plus, he punts. Oh, geez. It’s like bringing rain.”
Shaw took a little more convincing, especially with the soccer team hoping for a deep playoff run and his top scorer on the line. Beatham approached Shaw about playing football several games into the soccer season.
“At first I said no, absolutely not,” Shaw said. “I had some concerns. Then I went home and thought, you know, if this kid has a chance of going on further in his education and kicking field goals might help that along, I think I’d be selfish if I said no.”
Shaw and Wilson talked about it and came to a decision to allow Beatham to play both sports, with Beatham focusing on soccer. That means if a soccer playoff game and football game would ever be scheduled for the same time, Beatham would leave his shoulder pads in the locker room.
Beatham said he hasn’t had any trouble handling the practice schedule. Twice a week, after soccer practice wraps up, he heads to football practice to work with Wilson and special teams coach Mike Wallace for about 30 minutes. Beatham works on extra points and field goals, kickoffs, and punting.
There are big differences, he has found, between kicking in the two sports. Beatham realized fairly early it wouldn’t be easy.
“The first extra point I tried deflected off a kid’s helmet, bounced, hit the goalpost and rolled in,” he said. “So everybody was going crazy. But the second one I made [went through the uprights]. You have to get the right swing. If you follow through too much it’ll go way off.”
Balancing soccer and football games has worked out well with the minor exception of Saturday, Sept. 30. It was Homecoming, and Beatham had to scramble to go from an 11 a.m. soccer game against Penquis of Milo to a 1 p.m. football game against MCI of Pittsfield.
Beatham scored two goals in a 3-1 soccer win and then booted two extra-point attempts in a 32-15 football victory.
“It was a big day, but it’s not too bad,” he said. “When they need me, I go out and kick.”
Without pads Beatham figures he can boot a 50-yard field goal. With pads he can go 40-45 yards – not bad for someone who just started kicking a few weeks ago.
Wilson has marveled at Beatham’s progress despite the limited amount of football coaching he’s had.
“If it had started off earlier in the season and we had gotten some nuances squared away, I think he would have had even more success,” Wilson said. “We started later, he did some things, and he improved, but I think he would have been off the charts if we had been working with him.”
Beatham plans to attend Husson College in Bangor next year. As of now, he can’t envision playing anything other than his favorite, baseball.
The Eagles do have a football program, however, and Wilson is hoping to work with Beatham once the fall soccer and football seasons are over in case Beatham decides to keep on kicking.
“You can do stuff with a net and netting in a gym to show him the little nuances,” Wilson said. “He’s a talent and he should have every opportunity, if he chooses to, to use that talent. If he doesn’t, fine. But I think every kid should have the opportunity to make choices along the way.”