ROCKPORT — In sports, when an athlete possesses the perfect combination of skill, speed and strength and can use those attributes to dominate an opponent, well, such a person is referred to as a “beast.”

In the absolutely best sense of the word, Hunter Norton is a beast.

A sports “beast” is someone so athletically gifted they cannot easily be contained no matter how hard an opponent tries or schemes.

Camden Hills’ Hunter Norton, left, eludes a Morse defender en route to the end zone in a high school football game this fall. Photo by Ken Waltz

When Norton stepped on the football field this fall, opponents took notice — with a large level of concern, boatload of trepidation and even a pinch of fear. It was because the beast was about to be released.

The Camden Hills Regional High School senior is, by most measures, a nearly unstoppable force. At six feet, 215 pounds of muscle, determination and unparalleled athletic ability, few want to see Norton running at them with a football in his hands, stepping into the batter’s box or sprinting to the basket on the break.

Ask any football opponent who watched the rugged Windjammer run around, away from or through them for a touchdown. Ask any baseball pitcher left shaking his head after Norton blasts a ball into the gap or the basketball opponent who watches Norton jump to the rim to snatch a rebound on one end and then race down the court to finish the fast break with a layup.

The 17-year-old Windjammer is the complete package. A special athlete and young person. He is a coach’s dream. And, perhaps as compelling, Norton exudes confidence, is a team player, supports fellow athletes and works hard on and off the field/court.

What a season

In the fall of 2021, Norton was a one-player wrecking crew for the Windjammer football team, that finished 4-3, including a 56-36 loss to Morse of Bath in the regional playoffs. Norton certainly played a pivotal role for the Windjammers, who returned to the field to realize success after being forced to the sidelines in 2020 due to the pandemic.

Camden Hills’ Hunter Norton, left, on run against Morse. Photo by Ken Waltz

How good was the young Rockport resident on the football field this fall? Well, take a look at these eye-popping numbers.

In seven games, Christie said Norton rushed for 1,623 yards and 24 touchdowns. He added six receiving touchdowns, defensive touchdown, boatload of two-point conversions, 84 tackles and three interceptions. He compiled about 200 points. Which means he tallied about 63 percent of his teams 317 points.

When rushes, catches and kick returns were compiled, he had about 2,000 all-purpose yards.

“What can a coach say about Hunter that opposing coaches have not already said,” said Windjammer head coach Chris Christie. “He is tough, a true leader, [has] a tenacious work ethic and [is] an incredible young man off the field.”

The coach added, “When the opposing coaches and officials go out of their way after a game to congratulate him on an incredible game, you know you have a special athlete.”

Norton said he was motivated by many factors coming into this senior year, including trying to follow in the footsteps of his older brother, Michael Jr., who was a three-sport standout for Oceanside of Rockland and was, among many honors he earned, the Courier Publications/VillageSoup 2017-18 athlete of the year.

Orono defenders find tackling Camden Hills’ Hunter Norton, front, no easy task. Photo by Holly Vanorse Spicer

“Hunter came into the season with something to prove to himself,” Christie said. “I told him it was about writing HIS story … and he did just that. He is such a leader on this team. His work ethic is second to none and every single play … whether practice or in a game … is played at 100 percent.”

Dedication and determination

So, if one combines incredible dedication and hard work to next level talent, well, the result is Hunter Norton.

“Football this year felt like a revenge tour,” Norton said. “Last year during the COVID season we were still practicing and conditioning. I had trained my body all season and had never felt more agile and quick in my entire life. But without a season to display my abilities I felt a little bit of disappointment and heartbreak. When last summer rolled around I was the most excited that I had ever been for football. It felt like my love and passion for the sport was fully restored. Then during the Dexter [preseason] scrimmage I felt all the built up aggression from last season let loose, leaving me to play the game of football I know I can play at the level I wanted to play at.

“Not playing last year made me realize that I only had one year left and all it could take is one COVID case to end the season. With that in mind I told myself that I needed to make sure that I play every snap to the best of my ability, as if every snap were the last snap I would ever play. That was one big splash of reality that I was consistently reminded of throughout the season.”

Norton added “one big chip on my shoulder” was the fact his older brother, Mike, compiled 30 TDs and 2,000 all-purpose yards in 10 games his senior year. When Norton was younger, he often heard: “You have some pretty big shoes to fill” and “You won’t be as good as your brother.”

Camden Hills’ Hunter Norton runs to the team huddle at halftime of a game this season. Photo by Ken Waltz

“I took that to heart,” Norton said. “I made sure that I wasn’t going to live in my brother’s shadow and I was going to make a name for myself so before the season started I told myself I was going to score at least 30 touchdowns and [gain] 2,000 all-purpose yards in 10 games, which I ended up achieving in seven games. I’m glad my brother was as good as he was and I’m very grateful for that chip on my shoulder because that negativity was something I kept in the back of my mind during the whole season and helped direct me to where I wanted to be by the end of the season.”

Norton said he looked up to Mike and what he accomplished, but he went from wanting to be as good as his older brother to being better. He wanted to prove to those who doubted that he could make people remember his name, Hunter Norton, and his athletic accomplishments.

“All I needed were those negative comments to tell me all I needed to know from there on out,” Norton said. “I no longer wanted to be as good as my brother, I wanted to be better. All my life I’ve loved proving people wrong, so I wanted to make sure I was going to prove those guys wrong.”

And did he ever.

“I didn’t live in my brother’s shadow like they thought I would and as much as I did follow in Mike’s footsteps I feel like I made my own. I wanted to make sure that people weren’t going to remember me as ‘Mike’s brother,’ but rather Hunter Norton.”

Brotherly revenge

Norton said he thought about his brother, Mike, when Camden Hills played Mount Desert Island this season. Mike’s team had lost to the Trojans in consecutive years in the playoffs. So Hunter looked for payback.

“When I got the opportunity to play MDI this past year, I felt vengeful,” Norton said. “I knew how much I wanted to win every game, and MDI seemed personal. It felt like I needed to avenge my brother, Mike. We went down to their field and the second I saw it I started reminiscing back to that playoff game [Mike’s] senior year. As I stood on the field before warmups I was envisioning myself scoring in both end zones on long runs, I made sure that I kept in my mind the whole game how badly I needed to win that game. What made the win even better was that it was their homecoming and we lost half our team due to a COVID case. Even without half our team we beat them 32-8 on their homecoming.”

Norton said one of his best games this fall was a road win over Morse on Sept. 11. He said he recalled inspirational speeches from a former coach about the significance of that date and brotherhood and that motivated him to go out and score six touchdowns. It is a game he will remember the rest of his life.

Norton said the Windjammers had their sights set on challenging for a state title, so losing in the first round of the playoffs was a bit unexpected.

“To lose in the first playoff game was very bitter and not what I would’ve expected at the beginning of the season,” he said. “Although we lost in the playoffs, I had a very good ride with the team, coaches, and everyone on the team that I have everlasting bonds with. At the end of the day, I can say with all the confidence in the world, that I wouldn’t have rather played and fought with any other group of amazing young men.”

Eight-man game

Norton played 11-man football much of his life until he got the opportunity to play eight-man this fall. The sport was perfect for Norton and his standout skills.

“Looking at eight-man football on paper seems a lot worse and very different than 11-man football at first,” he said. “But when I’m on the field and playing, it doesn’t feel like too much of a difference. In eight-man, the field width is 10 yards shorter than 11-man, which makes sense due to there being six less players on the field. Even watching eight-man doesn’t feel too different from 11-man. I feel that eight-man still relies on the same team effort and other roots of football that 11-man requires. At first, I wasn’t in favor of playing eight-man football before the switch, but after the switch I learned that there wasn’t that big of a difference. If anything, eight-man can be more exciting than 11-man to watch and play due to all the long runs and more touchdowns.”

Norton said doing so much for the team did take a toll on him physically, but he loved being asked to shoulder a larger load and role.

“I enjoy every aspect of it,” he said. “I like running the ball on offense because I get to read which hole is opening up. I have the ability to cut upfield to hit that hole and race to the end zone. I also like offense because I get to run routes and make myself open to catch the ball and find whatever way I can get into the end zone. I like playing linebacker on defense because I can read where the quarterback is handing the ball off to which player and then running downfield to make the hit. One of my favorite things on defense is meeting someone at the sidelines and timing up the hit perfectly so they have no way to cut back on me, then hitting them as hard as I can [to make them go] out of bounds. I like kick returns because I’m able to receive the ball and read the entire field and chose which way I want to go depending on where the defenders are. By the time I meet the first defender I’m usually full speed, which gives me so many different options as to cut back, run by them, or run through them.”

Spending nearly every minute of a game on the field and being involved in a majority of the plays did come with a physical price.

“Along with football, came a lot of soreness and pain,” he said. “During the games, I would often feel tight and a little beat during the halftime stretches, but once we got back on the field I forgot about how my body felt and performed to my best ability. Other players would often land on my ankles, which made them pretty sore after the game. I would also have bruises all over my body after the games and on the rides home my entire legs and back would cramp up for minutes on end, multiple times. All of that soreness and pain definitely hurt, but not necessarily in a bad way. In a way I feel that pain is a mindset and we can tolerate pain based on how we interpret it. Not to the extent of a broken bone or any other permanent injuries. I feel that pain can make you physically stronger and mentally tougher. I miss that feeling of soreness because it reminded me of the game that I love.”

He said he was thankful to be part of one of the best seasons in Camden Hills football history.

“I have a lot of faith for the classes below me to get it done on the field so I’m excited to hear about what they accomplish in these years to come … The entire season was very memorable and I will remember the team and the season we had for the rest of my life.”

Courting improvement

Next up is basketball for Norton, who hopes to take his game to the next level. The rugged forward does all the “dirty work,” the things that often do not show up in the boxscore, but are necessary for team success.

“Some of my main roles are to hustle, get rebounds, and score around the rim,” he said. “This year I am looking to expand on what I am capable of and do a little bit of everything. Some of my favorite parts of basketball are that it’s a sport that you can practice and improve at all by yourself. If you want to get some shots up then all you need is a ball and a hoop, whereas in other sports you usually need someone else to help you get better. Another thing I love about basketball is that there are so many different ways of scoring, whether it’s shooting, driving, a putback, etc. Lastly, I love the game of basketball because it relies heavily on teamwork and brotherhood.”

Of course, when he is not menacing people on the football field or basketball court, Norton, who surely could challenge for a state track-and-field championship in throwing, jumping or sprinting, likes to hurt a baseball by bashing it all over the diamond and sometimes over fences.

He was an outfielder last year who batted in the middle of the powerful Windjammer lineup, but he probably will do a large chunk of work behind the plate in the spring. “My favorite part about baseball is that it’s a sport that can be competitive while also being very fun and relaxing. I like how I can go out and catch fly balls and hit in batting practice with a focused, yet fun mindset.”

Early indications of immense talent

Norton’s baseball prowess was on full display at a young age, as he once hit three home runs in a Little League all-star game.

“I remember a teammate who was right before me in the order and hit a line drive home run. It was his first home run so we were all excited,” Norton said. “The entire team went out and met him at home plate to congratulate him. I was up next and that was when I hit my first home run. Everyone came out of the dugout again but to congratulate me this time. My next time up to bat I hit my second home run and when everyone came out to congratulate me they all just pretty much said, ‘Good job, you can stop hitting home runs now.’ Then my next home run was what they referred to as the mammoth home run which was my furthest one. I trotted around the bases and all my teammates congratulated me again. I have to say that hitting those three home runs in that one game was one of the most exciting experiences in my life.”

Norton’s parents, Michael Sr. and Heidi Rogers, were strong athletes, as was Norton’s brother, Mike Jr., but Norton’s sports career had humble beginnings at age 5. It started with a football helmet that was too tight.

Norton, whose grandparents Dennis and Doris have been instrumental in his life, said he was sitting in the car with his grandfather watching his brother practice when his grandfather said “something along the lines of, ‘Don’t you want to be like your brother and play football?’ I went back and tried out the helmet again and that time it didn’t feel as tight, so I stuck with it. It was my first year playing and I was only 5, but I was playing with first- and second-graders so at that time I thought that they were a lot bigger than me. However, I remember one time when I picked up a fumble and ran it all the way back to the one-yard line before a second-grader chased me down and tackled me.

“I started playing basketball that same year and my dad was the coach. One thing I couldn’t get my head wrapped around in the beginning was dribbling. I didn’t understand why you had to dribble and not just run down the court and shoot. I remember my first time taking the ball up the court. I didn’t dribble once and I shot and missed a layup. My dad told me I needed to dribble, so the next time I took the ball up the court I took two dribbles and ran the rest of the way down the court and made the layup and heard my grandmother cheer, ‘Yayyyy! Good job!’ That same year I played tee-ball. Apparently back in those days, I would hit the ball and run to first base, and then after the next kid hit the ball my family would look over to see me run the bases and I wouldn’t even be on the base path. They say I used to come and go from the field as I pleased.”

Norton said he remembers receiving the “hammer” award, for the hardest hits in youth football, three straight years and one coach said they might want to rename it the “Hunter Award.” He also was defensive player of the year one season. His sixth-grade team went unbeaten in football, he won a Little League championship and he even proved the best in a regional free-throw competition in fourth grade.

While much has changed for Norton since his youth, he still gets a thrill out of a nice hit or play in the field. In fact, he belted a key home run in a baseball playoff game his junior year and he made a diving catch to preserve a no-hitter for teammate Liam O’Neal in a regular-season game.

Love of all sports

Those were special moments for Norton, moments that have become familiar to the athletic sensation.

However, of his usual sports experiences, which gives him the most satisfaction?

“Hitting a home run, making a long run for a touchdown, and hitting a key basket are all very stimulating feelings,” he said. “The best part about each is knowing that I’m putting the team in a better position to win. In order to answer which one has the best overall feeling would depend on which sport I’m playing at that time. Since football was the most recent sport I’ve played and the feelings of scoring a long touchdown run are still fresh in my mind I’d have to say scoring a long touchdown run.”

Norton, who enjoys swimming and water skiing at the family camp in the summer, hanging with friends and family, as well as bowling, playing miniature golf, watching movies, going out for food and playing video games with his younger brother and cousin, said he hopes to help his Windjammer basketball and baseball teams make state championship pushes.

As he continues his senior year and looks to a future that probably will include playing football at a Maine college, he talks about the true meaning of sports, which goes beyond touchdowns, home runs and baskets.

“I feel that sports have been very important in my life,” he said. “Sports have not only kept me active but they have also allowed me to build strong relationships with the people I play with. All of my closest friends are people that I’ve played sports with. With most sports you often hear the word ‘teamwork’ affiliated with them. However, I feel that the word that should be used is ‘brotherhood.’ When you are playing with a football team it shouldn’t feel like you’re playing with a bunch of friends, but should rather feel like you’re fighting with your brothers. Every team I’ve played with in high school has felt like a brotherhood, like everyone on my team had my back no matter what. That kind of connection and support is a feeling that money can’t buy. Because of this I know that I will remember all of the guys I’ve fought with on the field, court, and diamond.”

And surely those teammates will never forget a remarkable young man and incredible athlete named Hunter Norton.