Ben Horrisberger, a Portland High senior, has seen considerable playing time in the first two games of the season for the Boston Glory, a professional American Ultimate Disc League team. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

With just two games under his belt, Portland High senior Ben Horrisberger doesn’t brag about being a professional athlete.

“Not really, I don’t tell people that,” he said.

That’s partly because the outspoken teenager knows his sport often flies — floaties might be a better description — under the radar.

Horrisberger, 18, is a rookie defensive specialist for Boston Glory, one of 25 teams in America’s professional Ultimate Disc League. He is the youngest of approximately 40 men on the team’s roster and is one of four high schoolers to play in the league this season. The AUDL, formed in 2012, has teams based in many of North America’s largest metropolitan areas.

Ultimate is a 7v7 field game played with a Frisbee – a Frisbee in popular parlance. The object of the game is to pass the disc from player to player until it reaches the opposing end zone. Players are not allowed to run after catching the disc. The game has grown in popularity over the past 20 years at the high school, college, and sports club level.

Horrisberger started playing the sport at age 12, usually against older players. He played football and was a Nordic skier at Portland High and is an avid rock climber. His speed sets him apart in the Ultimate field.

“Ben is an amazing, amazing player,” said teammate Noah Backer, 28, of Cape Elizabeth. “He’s a hard-to-find athletic specimen. He’s smart, athletic, doesn’t seem to feel any pressure and he’s also a great boy. … There are very, very few 18-year-olds who feel like he has in club or in pro.

The Glory opened their season on April 30 with a 25-24 win at home, Hormel Stadium in Medford, Massachusetts, then went 0-2 on a trip to Canada last weekend, losing in Ottawa, 21-19, Friday evening and in Montreal, from 21 to 17, Saturday afternoon.

Horrisberger recorded considerable action in the first two games. He did not play the Montreal game due to a shoulder injury, but Glory coach Sam Rosenthal expects him to return to the lineup against the New Empire. York Saturday.

In his first professional game, Horrisberger was a starter on the defensive line, the 7-man group that takes the field when the opposing team receives the “pull” – Ultimate’s term for a kickoff.

He was on the field for 16 defensive possessions, the sixth most on the team, and played a total of 18 minutes. Backer, who played at the University of Michigan, had 19 defensive possessions and 20 minutes played. Cumberland’s Cole Moore, a University of Maine student and the third Maine player on Glory’s roster, saw limited time in Game 1. Moore played more in both games in Canada, also on the defensive line.

“I had no idea I would get this much playing time,” Horrisberger said of the season opener. “It was really something to have my name spoken several times in front of such a big crowd. I mean 600 people, it would be nothing in other professional sports, but it felt like a lot.

When the starters were introduced, “it was kind of a rush to get out of the tunnel under the bleachers and everyone was like ‘Bos-ton. Bos-ton,’ and all of these people are there to see you play. The pressure is strong to put on a good show.

“They announced the starters and here he is, Ben Horrisberger. And they said his name correctly, ”said Horrisberger’s mother, Erin Brennan, who was present with his father, Michael Horrisberger.

In Ottawa, Horrisberger led the team with 16 defensive possessions and scored his first professional goal. He also made some Twitter-worthy defensive play, knocking down a long throw in the fourth quarter with a one-handed diving deflection.

Rosenthal said the 5-foot-8, 135-pound Horrisberger is one of the smallest players on the team, but his speed and ability to stick to opposing receivers — known as “cutters” — up close are already professional caliber.

“He’s just exceptionally fast, even for this level of athlete,” Rosenthal said. “He’s still learning angles and defensive team concepts. He is eager to learn though. You pretty much put it on a guy going for a run and wish the guy on the other team good luck.

STILL PLAYING IN HIGH SCHOOL LEAGUE

Defensive linemen get involved in the offense if they cause a turnover in the flowing game which, at the professional level, is played on an 80-yard field with 20-yard end zones on four quarterbacks of 12 minutes. Horrisberger said his throws are “for sure the weakest part of my game” and what he focuses on playing with friends and with Forest City (a combination of students from Portland, Deering and Casco Bay) in the local Maine Ultimate High School league, which this year has 24 men’s teams and 13 women’s teams.

“Which is good to keep playing for my high school team, I can throw a lot and I can throw really risky pitches that I never would have thrown in those big leagues,” Horrisberger said.

American Ultimate Disc League players are paid per game. Rosenthal, Horrisberger and Backer hesitated to set an exact amount because some players are paid more than others. Rosenthal said Glory players earn around $75 to $125 per game. The team has a 12-game regular season. Making the all-star team, making the playoffs (the Glory missed last year in its inaugural season), and winning a championship can earn salary incentives.

But all expenses are covered by the team, including food, travel expenses and accommodation when traveling by car.

“We get our shirts back. I get free clothes, a sweatshirt, pants, a hat, as well as the trip,” Horrisberger said.

This is a big difference from the club’s team structure run by USA Ultimate. The level of play is quite similar between elite clubs and AUDL, Backer said, but the cost burden falls entirely on the players. Horrisberger experienced this last summer when he played for the Boston DiG in national tournaments in Colorado and California.

“That was it for me and my family,” Horrisberger said.

While player salaries are minimal, in other respects the AUDL operates similarly to other professional leagues. He has a play-of-the-week contract with Fox Sports 2 every Saturday with live and delayed broadcasts. Boston Glory gets its television hour this Saturday when it hosts the New York Empire. The league has an agreement with DraftKings to allow betting on games in states where gambling is legal. A litany of stats are kept, largely so fans can form their own fantasy Ultimate Leagues.

The AUDL also uses referees to call fouls and infractions. This drew a lot of criticism from Ultimate purists. USA Ultimate emphasizes its “Spirit of the Game” code where players call and enforce the rules. Club matches are also played on a shorter pitch and end when a team reaches a set number of scores, usually 15.

TO THE UNIVERSITY OF OREGON

Earlier this year, Horrisberger was one of 20 players selected from approximately 200 tryout invitees to represent USA Ultimate at the World Junior Under-20 Championship in Poland this summer. Ten of the 20 World Juniors players are with the AUDL, including Horrisberger’s teammate Declan Kervick of Burlington, Vermont, a freshman at the University of Vermont.

The World Games are in doubt because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“They told us not to make any plans yet, which is unfortunate. It looks like that might not happen,” Horrisberger said. “Hopefully we can go there because it was kind of like my big goal to make the team and try to win the gold for the United States because I think everyone who practices a sport idolize to play for their country.”

This fall, he will enroll at the University of Oregon in Eugene and play for his Ultimate Club, an established team that is among the best in the Northwest.

Horrisberger still remembers the first time he played Ultimate, aged 12 in 2016.

Her brother, six years her senior, was playing for the Casco Bay co-ed team one night at Deering High’s Memorial Field. Ben followed and met Alex Pozzy, the team’s coach and founder of the Portland Ultimate League in 1993.

“It was in the spotlight and I just showed up and (Pozzy) gave me a jersey and put me on the court and it was really fun,” Horrisberger said.

Pozzy enjoys telling the story.

“I’ve been telling it since that day,” Pozzy, 54, said. “I coached the Portland middle school team and every year we had a Friday under the lights with about 150 kids from four or five schools.

“We went out in the pouring rain. Someone walked up and said, ‘This is my brother Ben and he’s one of the best New England football players for his age group. Can he play? Pozzy continued. “I said, ‘You’re on the team and it’s an athlete’s game. Let’s see what you have.’ And immediately, he was phenomenal.

In seventh grade, Horrisberger played in a few games for Forest City’s high school team. By eighth grade, he was a full-fledged player.

A year later, he was playing for the Portland Red Tide, a New England mid-level adult club team originally formed in 1988.

“When I started playing with them, the next youngest person was around 25,” Horrisberger said. “But what it really did was it got me very involved in the adult scene in the Portland Frisbee community. … They took me under their wing.

Through his Red Tide connections, he got a tryout with the Boston DiG and made the 2021 squad as a practice player. Within weeks, he was on the pitch like a regular. Several Boston DiG teammates, including Backer, praised Horrisberger’s skills to Rosenthal, Glory’s trainer.

“Where he is now and given his thirst for learning, in a few years he will be a real superstar,” Rosenthal said. “We have a great crop up here in Boston and he will be part of that.”


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