UMaine stars make push for pro dreams

By Pete Warner,
Posted March 26, 2009, at 11:45 p.m.

ORONO, Maine — One might have expected to see several National Football League scouts Thursday at the University of Maine’s pro day.

The main attraction was consensus All-America defensive end Jovan Belcher, a legitimate candidate to sign a pro contract on or around the April 25-26 draft.

Coach Jack Cosgrove’s Black Bears have produced nine players since 2002 who are presently on NFL rosters.

Instead, one scout from the Detroit Lions and another from Arena Football League 2 put a group of eight UMaine players through a series of strength and agility drills at Latti Fitness Center and the Mahaney Dome.

“I thought a lot of other people were going to be here,” said linebacker Andrew Downey, one of the UMaine hopefuls who turned in an impressive performance Thursday morning, including 27 repetitions in the bench press at 225 pounds.

“It would have been better to have a lot more people here, but I saw a Detroit Lions guy and he’s in the NFL. It only takes one scout,” Downey said.

The reason for the smaller scout turnout stemmed from the fact Belcher, a 6-foot-2, 238-pounder from West Babylon, N.Y., worked out at a similar event Tuesday in New York.

That session attracted 16 NFL scouts, who then did not have to make the long trek to Orono to see Belcher — or the Bears’ other prospects.

“My agent thought it would be smart to do Hofstra’s, too, because there could possibly be more scouts there,” said Belcher, who wouldn’t have missed the chance to go through the drills with his former UMaine teammates.

“I wanted to work out with my guys and see them perform,” Belcher said. “I’ve been here all four years with them. I came with them, so I want to go out with them.”

Belcher and Downey were joined by offensive linemen Chris Arnao and Ryan Canary, running back/receiver Jhamal Fluellen, defensive backs Lionel Nixon Jr. and Lamir Whetstone, and punter Kash Kiefer.

Belcher, who improved his bench press (23 reps) from Tuesday’s effort at Hofstra, credited team camaraderie with helping him perform better and enjoy the experience on his home turf.

“I benched a lot better up here, just being around my old teammates, my old buddies,” said Belcher, who is being projected as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. “That’s always a positive, having your teammates around you cheering for you.”

The players were first measured and weighed, then performed the bench press in Latti Fitness Center. Downey (6-1, 231) led the way, followed by Canary (26 reps) and Belcher.

From there, the action moved into the Mahaney Dome for the vertical jump. Downey leapt a personal-best 37½ inches to set the standard.

In the broad jump, Nixon Jr. (10 feet, 4 inches) and Fluellen (10-3) were the top performers, while Downey went 9-11 and Belcher 9-6. The star in the 40-yard dash was Fluellen, who was timed in 4.38 and 4.41 seconds, respectively, on his two tries. Nixon clocked a 4.69 and Downey’s best was 4.70.

“I think there’s a feeling among the NFL teams that if you go to Maine you’re going to see some guys that work hard up there,” Cosgrove said. “I always felt that this environment can be very special.

“People talk about we’re isolated, we’re way off, [but] if you’ve got a kid that’s very serious about his dreams and goals and you put him in an environment where there’s not a lot of distractions and obstacles, I think you can be very successful and that’s what you’re seeing.”

The players also performed three agility drills that involved running around and between orange cones. Some of the athletes did position-specific drills, including Kiefer, who punted out on Morse Field.

For Canary and Arnao, pro day was the last chance to perhaps prolong their careers. Canary, an “undersized” center at 6-1, 281 pounds, actually passed up an opportunity to play professionally in Switzerland to take a shot at the NFL.

“I wanted to do pro day and I wanted to play at the best level possible and I wanted to see if I could do that,” Canary said. “I’m happy with my decision. I don’t have any regrets.”

Arnao (6-7, 303) viewed the day as a no-lose proposition. With a business administration degree under his belt, continuing his playing career would be a bonus.

“I came out here, PR’d in a bunch of stuff, had a great day,” he said. “I’m happy [for] the rest of my life. I gave it a shot and let the chips fall where they may.”

Now, he and his former teammates will sit back and wait to see whether their efforts made an impression.

“I want to pursue football as long as I can until somebody says, ‘listen, you’re just not cut out [for it],’ but I’m going to keep working toward it, Arnao said.

In the end, they all know only a select few will play pro football. Yet they’ll always be able to look back on their experiences at UMaine with pride, knowing they did their best.

“I think probably everybody was out here because it’s part of their dream to have an opportunity like this, to perform in front of pro scouts and maybe have a chance to continue to play the game after college,” Cosgrove said.

http://bangordailynews.com/2009/03/26/sports/umaine-stars-make-push-for-pro-dreams/ printed on December 25, 2014