IOWA CITY, Iowa — The University of Maine athletic department will receive a whopping $450,000 in exchange for the Black Bears football team making the trip here to play the University of Iowa.
For UMaine redshirt freshman Steve Shea of Corinna, the experience will be priceless.
When Shea runs onto the field for today’s noon season opener at jam-packed Kinnick Stadium, in front of 70,586 Hawkeye fans, the 6-foot-4, 277-pound offensive guard will be playing the first countable football game of his life.
“I’m ecstatic. I can’t wait to go compete and I can’t wait to beat the guy across from me,” said Shea, who will proudly wear the No. 58 jersey for coach Jack Cosgrove’s Bears.
Saturday will be a dream come true for Shea, who arrived at UMaine a year ago as a walk-on out of Nokomis High School in Newport, which had fielded a developmental team for only two seasons.
“I’ve been working hard and, thanks to my fellow linemen who put me in the position where I am today, yeah, I did imagine it,” he said.
Shea is among the least experienced UMaine football players to make his collegiate debut, at least in the scholarship era. He started out in Dexter’s youth football league and was at the head of the line when Nokomis fielded a developmental squad in 2005, his junior year.
“The most (fans) we had was probably 200 and that was our last game,” Shea said. “At Iowa there’s going to be 70,000 people. It’s going to be loud. It’s going to be exciting; everyone against you.”
Limited prior experience hasn’t kept some of his predecessors from achieving greatness. Mike DeVito, who played only two years of high school ball, now plays for the NFL’s New York Jets.
“He’s a guy that we have great hopes for because he loves the game and he works hard at it,” Cosgrove said. “We’ve got him on that fast-paced learning situation because an opportunity came up. Somebody decided that they weren’t going to come back this year and all of a sudden he has a chance to be playing at Iowa.”
Shea was discovered by the UMaine staff when he attended a team football camp during the summer. He spent last season trying to absorb as much knowledge about the game as he could.
Offensive line coach and running game coordinator Frank Giufre put a clipboard and pencil in Shea’s hands last fall and made him take copious notes.
“I was just writing down every blitz, every play, every front the defense was running so I could recognize it better watching film,” said Shea, who has earned a scholarship award.
Today, he will receive a major test of his knowledge, strength and skill as an offensive lineman.
“The guys he’s going against (in Iowa) are going to challenge him,” Cosgrove said. “That’s where the learning really takes place for him because all the things we do in practice now have to be taken care of in a game.”
Shea, who also is the backup for senior center Ryan Canary, will be among a handful of UMaine players who will make their collegiate debuts. That group includes four redshirt freshmen in H-backs Jared Turcotte of Lewiston and Derek Session, tight end Derek Buttles, defensive tackle Raibonne Charles of Windham and first-year place-kickers Brian Harvey and Jordan Waxman.
“I have no idea how some of our younger players are going to react,” Cosgrove said. “All in all, it’s still a rather ominous challenge and an awesome opportunity for us.”