Oxford Hills' Eli Soehren wins 51st Fitzpatrick Trophy

Jan. 15—As one of three finalists for the 51st James J. Fitzpatrick Trophy, Oxford Hills senior quarterback Eli Soehren prepared two speeches for Sunday's awards luncheon at the Holiday Inn by the Bay in Portland.

"I think we're all really good candidates and I didn't have any clue at all who was going to win. I was definitely nervous. Speeches aren't my greatest thing," Soehren said. "But I did have a second speech. I was prepared. I always come prepared."

The preparation came in handy. Soehren was named the winner of the Fitzpatrick Trophy, given to the top senior high school football player in Maine as determined by coaches and media.

The award adds to a long list of accomplishments for Soehren in the last two years, including the 2021 Maine Gatorade Player of the Year, 2022 MaxPreps Player of the Year, two-time Class A Player of the Year, two-time Varsity Maine All-State selection, and committing to play football at Colby College.

But the Fitzpatrick Trophy, with its history and the trophy that winners keep for a lifetime is different. For Soehren, the only accomplishment that has meant more is winning Oxford Hills' first football state championship this past fall.

"This is a big one. I mean getting this award, it's just amazing," Soehren said. "I'll remember this for a long, long time."

Soehren was joined at the head table by Portland quarterback/receiver Kennedy Charles and Cape Elizabeth receiver/back/returner Nick Laughlin.

"It was a great experience to be honored for all the hard work that's been put in these last couple of months of football," Charles said. "Being up there to share the stage with two other great athletes, it's just an honor, a great experience overall."

All three finalists had outstanding seasons and were Varsity Maine All-State players. They were initially among 10 semifinalists chosen by the Fitzpatrick Trophy committee, which also assesses academic and civic achievements. Varsity coaches and media members then select their top three candidates from the list of semifinalists.

Soehren, a 4.0 grade-point average student, completed 66 percent (110 of 167) of his passes for 1,776 yards and 24 touchdowns. Slowed by an ankle injury that caused him to miss two games and most of a third, he also rushed for 349 yards and six scores, had a 41.0 punting average, and led a team that went 11-0.

Soehren is the second Oxford Hills player to win the award. Jeremy Tardiff was the 1994 recipient. Tardiff's son, Hunter Tardiff, returned an interception for a touchdown in the Vikings' 21-7 state championship win against Thornton Academy.

Charles, with a 3.8 GPA, stood out for the way he took over at quarterback after Portland started 1-3. He had never played the position, but with the ball in his hands on every offensive snap, Charles rushed for 1,809 yards and threw for 590, accounting for 25 total touchdowns while leading Portland to the Class B South title. He was in position to become Portland's sixth Fitzy winner, and first since Joe Esposito in 2015.

Laughlin, another 3.8 GPA student, was trying to become the second straight winner from Cape Elizabeth. A four-year standout and two-time Varsity Maine All-State selection, Laughlin was the favorite target a year ago for 2021 Fitzy winner Caden McDuffie. This past season, Laughlin rushed for 1,087 yards and 17 touchdowns, caught 57 passes for 852 yards and 10 touchdowns, returned two kicks for touchdowns, and was in on 84.5 tackles.

"I'm honored to be here," Laughlin said. "Eli definitely had a great season and got to end it with a state championship, which is huge. I'm happy to be here as a finalist."

The other seven semifinalists attended and were recognized. They are Eli Bigelow of Lewiston, Finn Caxton-Smith of Falmouth, Shea Farrell of Mt. Ararat, Issac Hainer of Mattanawcook Academy, Parker Higgins of Lawrence, Jaelen Jackson of South Portland, and Dominick Napolitano of Cony.

Each finalist gives a speech after being introduced by their head coach. In his first speech, Soehren singled out Oxford Hills assistant coaches Nate Danforth and Joe Ouifiero, along with his father, Mark Soehren, who is the Vikings' head coach.

Danforth said one thing that set Eli Soehren apart was that he brought "a great energy to be around. In the high pressure situations, you could count on Eli. I've coached him since he was little and I just knew he was going to be special. I'm really not surprised this happened to him."

In his acceptance speech, Soehren made a point of thanking his mother, Kate, his older brother, Atticus, and his younger sister, McKinley, and then shouted out his dad again.

"My biggest thanks goes to my dad," he said, noting that his love of the game was fostered by being around practices and watching games on TV, listening to his dad, "dissect plays while passing on his overall enthusiasm for football."

As a junior, Soehren directed Oxford Hills to the state championship game, but the Vikings came up short against Thornton. At the end of that season, Isaiah Oufiero of the Vikings was named a Fitzpatrick semifinalist.

"This definitely means a lot. Isaiah got semifinalist last year and I was like, I want to win it this year for my school and community," Soehren said.