ORONO, Maine — The University of Maine football team is excited about its prospects for 2009.
Unfortunately for the Black Bears, they’ll have to wait four months before kicking off the season with a Sept. 3 home game against St. Cloud State.
The Bears demonstrated their enthusiasm Saturday morning during the fifth annual Jeff Cole Memorial Spring Scrimmage on Morse Field at Alfond Stadium.
The event is a tribute to former UMaine assistant coach Cole, who died of cancer in 2004 after six seasons in Orono.
Coach Jack Cosgrove and his staff put the team through several series of plays to exhibit the gains made since their 8-5 NCAA playoff season in 2008.
“It’s a steppingstone to let people know where we’re going, where we want to be and how hard and physical we’re going to come out and play each and every game,” said safety Jerron McMillian, who will be a sophomore next season.
McMillian made his presence felt with several tackles and two pass breakups, including a big hit on wide receiver Des Randall near the goal line.
McMillian is among several players with some experience who will be expected to make a bigger impact during 2009.
“The key thing that coach [Joe Rossi] says is to keep up our intensity and enthusiasm,” McMillian said. “We’ve just got to come out here wanting to be out here wanting to play, to fly around and be fast.”
The Bears have several holes to fill on defense, including spots vacated by NFL signees Jevon Belcher at end and Andrew Downey at inside linebacker.
No fewer than 21 players registered at least one tackle Saturday. Linebacker Vinson Givans had a forced fumble among his tackles, while cornerback Troy Harris capped the scrimmage with an interception of Cape Elizabeth’s Chris Treister at the 1-yard line that he returned 45 yards.
“I think we’re never satisfied,” said senior Brandon McLaughlin, who was selected by his teammates as one of three captains for next season along with quarterback Mike Brusko and defensive end Jordan Stevens of Temple.
“This is the end of spring ball, but it’s not the end of our preparation,” said McLaughlin, who has moved from safety to linebacker, “so we’re going to be up here working hard, getting the things that we didn’t get corrected over the spring, over the summer. The guys are going to be really invested and focused to do the job.”
The defense controlled the later part of the scrimmage, including the last six series. Two of those started at the defense’s 40-yard line and three began at the 25.
Key plays included Givans’ sack of QB Warren Smith and the ensuing fumble recovery by Raibonne Charles of Windham; and McLaughlin’s fourth-down tackle to stop Treister a yard shy of a first down at the 16.
“The second half of the scrimmage I thought our defense took charge and really played well, especially well for where they were on the field,” Cosgrove said.
“I liked the way we were flying around to the ball — fast, active, enthusiastic — and got three turnovers,” he added.
The offense enjoyed some success early in the scrimmage, manufacturing consecutive drives resulting in field goals.
Tailback Derek Session’s 15-yard run and a 9-yard completion from Brusko to Jared Turcotte of Lewiston helped set up Brian Harvey’s 38-yard field goal.
On the next drive, Treister went 4-for-5 passing for 49 yards, hooking up with Randall on completions of 22 and 16 yards. Jordan Waxman booted a 25-yard field goal.
“We have a saying around our program ‘Bear Down,’” Cosgrove said.
“I thought our offense came out with that type of mentality and really focused, and they executed at a high level. They had perhaps their best section of scrimmaging this spring.”
The offense then scored on its first condensed drive, starting at the plus-40. Tailback Roosevelt Boone scored the day’s only touchdown when he took a handoff to the left, found the hole shut off, then reversed his field and outraced the defense to the right pylon.
“It’s a real hardworking group of guys,” Cosgrove said. “Their attitude and effort is a great reflection of each other.”
UM football announces awards
The Bears presented their end-of-season team awards during the team banquet Friday night at Wells Commons.
Belcher, who recently signed with the Kansas City Chiefs, was chosen the team MVP. Brusko and center Ryan Canary were named offensive co-players of the year, while Downey, a Detroit Lions signee, was selected on defense.
Players of the year included: Chris Arnao, offensive line; Jonathan Pirruccello of Turner, defensive line; Kash Kiefer, special teams; Conor Keating, special teams “Hammer;’’ Gabe Hinds of Augusta and Doug Alston, co-scout team.
The rookies of the year were Turcotte (offense) and Charles (defense), while Canary won the senior achievement award and the strength and conditioning award. The spirit and dedication awards went to Jhamal Fluellen and Sean Wasson, respectively.