ORONO, Maine — Today marks the halfway point of the spring season for the University of Maine football team.
Coach Jack Cosgrove and his staff will put the Black Bears through their paces during 15 spring practice sessions, culminating May 2 with the annual Jeff Cole Scrimmage on Morse Field at Alfond Stadium.
UMaine players have been hard at work in the weight room and in the Mahaney Dome during the winter, getting stronger and faster in anticipation of spring ball.
The hope is UMaine can rediscover the commitment, camaraderie and on-field execution that helped it post an 8-5 record and earn a spot in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.
“The older players on the team know how important that is, the character and the chemistry of the team and its foundational elements,” Cosgrove said.
The Bears conducted their second scrimmage Saturday. The session featured tremendous enthusiasm, especially from the defensive players.
“So far everybody’s been really excited to get back outside with the pads on and start hitting again,” said linebacker Mark Masterson. “We’re really enthusiastic, and we’re having fun out here.”
There is plenty of competition for spots on the defense, which lost seven senior starters off last year’s squad. That includes likely NFL draft pick Jovan Belcher (defensive end) and linebacker Andrew Downey.
And with the likes of defensive backs Dom Cusano and Trevor Coston and linebacker Levi Ervin all working their way back from injuries, the opportunities are there for young players to get noticed.
“There’s a youthfulness to that side of the ball,” Cosgrove said. “We’re very shallow in the secondary.”
New defensive coordinator Joe Rossi has injected plenty of emotional fire into the defense as it tries to re-establish itself.
“Joe’s been very much emphasizing the need for enthusiasm, the need for teamwork,” Cosgrove said.
Defensive veterans include Masterson, end Jordan Stevens of Temple, tackle Raibonne Charles of Windham and cornerback Norman Smith.
The offensive unit includes a nucleus of eight returning starters. Among the mainstays are quarterback Mike Brusko, All-America running back Jared Turcotte of Lewiston, wideout Landis Williams and tackler Tyler Eastman of Old Town.
The Bears look to shore up an offensive line that graduated three-year starters in Ryan Canary and tackle Chris Arnao.
Brusko, who directed the Bears to the postseason after taking over for injured and now-transferred starter Adam Farkes, likes what he has seen from the line so far.
“They’re making big improvements and that’s really exciting,” he said. “If we can get young guys playing up to the next level, the more experience they get, the better they’ll get.”
Brusko is complemented by sophomore backups Chris Treister of Cape Elizabeth and Warren Smith, a transfer from a now-defunct Iona program.
“Chris really has improved. He’s getting more contact type reps that he needs right now that he’ll really benefit from,” Cosgrove said.
“Warren got a chance [Saturday] to run the offense in a tackle football situation. He’s a tough, competitive kid.”
Bone marrow drive set April 30
The UMaine football team will spearhead the Jeff Cole Memorial Bone Marrow Drive by serving as volunteers at the April 30 event.
The drive will run 3-7 p.m. at the UMaine recreation center on the Orono campus.
The Black Bears are teaming up with the UMaine Multicultural Center, the OSNA and the National Bone Marrow Testing Program to screen people from the community for bone marrow compatibility with individuals suffering from cancer.
The bone marrow test consists of a simple cheek swab and does not involve needles or blood. Signup and testing should last about 30 minutes.
UMaine is one of 11 Colonial Athletic Association schools conducting such drives this spring.
Cosgrove reaches out to Mainers
Cosgrove this week will begin a series of three public appearances scheduled across the state in coming weeks to talk about UMaine football.
Thursday, he will speak, then greet fans from 6-8 p.m. at The Pointe Afta at 252 China Road in Winslow.
Other dates include April 30 at the Sea Dog Restaurant in Bangor and May 7 at Rivalries in Portland. Both sessions run 6-8 p.m.
UM football banquet set May 1
Cosgrove and the UMaine football team invite fans and supporters to attend the Bears’ annual spring banquet.
The event will be held May 1 at 6 p.m. in the Wells Conference Center on UMaine’s Orono campus. The team will take a look back at the Bears’ successful 2008 season on the eve of the annual Jeff Cole Scrimmage.
For information about any of the UMaine football events, call the football office at 207-581-1062.