Colonial Athletic Association coaches expected Jovan Belcher to be the best defensive player in the conference this season.
The University of Maine senior lived up to the expectations.
Belcher on Monday was named the CAA Defensive Player of the Year. The defensive end from West Babylon, N.Y., who had been chosen the CAA Preseason Defensive Player of the Year, is the second Black Bear to earn the honor.
Stephen Cooper, now with the NFL’s San Diego Chargers, won the award in 2001 and 2002.
“I appreciate the award a lot,” said Belcher, who will try to add an NCAA Football Championship Subdivision playoff victory to his career accomplishments Saturday when No. 20 UMaine travels to No. 4 Northern Iowa for a 5 p.m. first-round game at the UNI Dome in Cedar Falls, Iowa.
“I like the pressure that was put on me,” he added. “It made me play a lot harder and it allowed my teammates to step up and make a lot of plays.”
Belcher was among seven UMaine players to earn All-CAA recognition. Joining Belcher on the first team are redshirt freshman fullback Jared Turcotte of Lewiston and senior center Ryan Canary.
The Bears also placed senior linebacker Andrew Downey on the second team and senior tailback Jhamal Fluellen, senior tackle Chris Arnao and senior cornerback Lionel Nixon Jr.
The awards were voted on by the league’s 12 head coaches.
Belcher was a dominating force on the defensive line. The 6-foot-2, 228-pounder ranked 11th in the league and was first among defensive linemen with 93 tackles.
Despite frequently being double-teamed, Belcher led the CAA in tackles for a loss with 15½ and was second in sacks (7½) during the regular season.
“I used to get frustrated a lot when they did that, but now I don’t mind,” Belcher said of the double-teaming. “Football’s played with 11 people, not one, so they think there’s only one crazy person on the field when they double-team me, but they don’t know there’s 10 other crazy guys screaming down the field with reckless abandon.”
Belcher also is one of 16 finalists for the Buck Buchanan Award, given to the best defensive player in the FCS.
Turcotte burst onto the CAA scene this season after an injury to Fluellen forced the Bears to reconfigure their backfield. The 6-foot-2, 232-pound powerhouse rushed for 602 yards on 100 carries, averaging 6.0 yards per attempt.
Turcotte combined a punishing running style with deceptive speed in the open field. After carrying the ball only once in the first four games combined while playing H-back, wound up as UMaine’s leading rusher and scored seven rushing touchdowns.
The former Lewiston High star and Fitzpatrick Trophy winner also led the Bears with 23 receptions for 271 yards and a touchdown.
Canary was elevated to first-team status after gaining second-team honors in 2007. The 6-2, 276-pound center from Point Pleasant, N.J., anchored an offensive line that helped UMaine rank third in rushing with 196 yards per game.
Downey was honored for the third time and picked up his second straight second-team spot. The hard-hitting linebacker from Kingston, N.Y., ranked 12th in the CAA in tackles (87) and 13th in tackles for a loss (8½).
Fluellen overcame an injury to rush for 558 yards and three TDs with 14 catches for 98 yards and a score. Arnao was a mainstay on the line and has made 41 straight starts. Nixon Jr. racked up 71 tackles and had two interceptions.
Cosgrove candidate for honor
UMaine head coach Jack Cosgrove is among 20 coaches under consideration for the Eddie Robinson National Coach of the Year Award.
The honor, which is given by The Sports Network, is bestowed on the top coach in the Football Championship Subdivision. It is named after former Grambling coaching legend Eddie Robinson.
Cosgrove’s candidacy comes after he directed the Bears to an 8-4 regular-season record and an NCAA FCS playoff spot. UMaine had been picked to finish fourth in the CAA North Division, but wound up second behind New Hampshire with a 5-3 conference mark.
UMaine rattled off six consecutive victories after a 2-3 start, including two road wins over top-20 opponents Delaware and Massachusetts.
UMaine is making its fifth NCAA postseason appearance and its third in the last eight seasons. The Bears were last in the playoffs in 2002.
The Robinson Award winner will be announced Dec. 18.