ORONO, Maine — For several days, Kris Enslen has been wound up thinking about making his collegiate football debut for the University of Maine.
“I’m getting more nervous, more excited,” the redshirt freshman defensive end from Middletown, Del., said Tuesday. “I’ve been ready for this since Aug. 7 when we showed up [for training camp].”
The anticipation and suspense end tonight when UMaine, ranked No. 19 in the Football Championship Subdivision, opens the season with a 7 p.m. game against Division II St. Cloud (Minn.) State on Morse Field at Alfond Stadium.
Coach Jack Cosgrove’s Black Bears are among several Division I teams kicking off the season two days prior to the traditional Saturday opener and will be among the first squads to take the field.
“Starting the season off at home, under the lights, with school in session — hopefully that means a bigger crowd, more students, more excitement and energy,” ” said UMaine senior tri-captain Mike Brusko. “That’s something that’s a blessing to us.”
UMaine is enthusiastic about trying to follow up on its 2008 performance, which included an 8-5 record and a berth in the 16-team NCAA Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.
St. Cloud State is coming off a 38-16 home loss to Augustana College a week ago tonight. The Huskies were 7-4 last season.
As always, the opening game brings with it plenty of unknowns. That mostly stems from the departure of numerous veterans and the insertion of their replacements.
“It has a level of excitement to it and hopefully we respond and play the kind of football game that we’re capable of,” said Cosgrove, who is in his 17th season leading the Bears.
He pointed out that St. Cloud State has a bit of an advantage in that it has already played a game and had a chance to work through some of the early growing pains.
While the two programs have met on the ice, this is their first football encounter. UMaine added the Huskies to the schedule late, after Florida State backed out of the scheduled season opener against the Bears to play Miami.
When UMaine replaced that game with Bowl Championship Subdivision member Syracuse, it was faced with limited scheduling options. Enter St. Cloud State, which is receiving plenty of respect.
“We always try to go out and get a win,” said Bears senior linebacker Mark Masterson. “As far as opponents go, we treat everybody the same.”
The Huskies, who received a financial guarantee of $65,000 including other considerations, to play the game, can take a nothing-to-lose attitude and try to pull off a significant upset.
“They’re coming out here with a purpose and that’s to win,” Cosgrove said. “We’re playing at our home and we have to defend our home turf. We have to be ready to play a great football game.”
With a Colonial Athletic Association game at Northeastern on deck, the Bears want to set the proper tone for the season against St. Cloud State.
“If we can take care of business [tonight] and get some confidence and develop some momentum going into next week, that’s really, really important for us, too,” said tri-captain Brusko.
Bear tracks: UMaine is expected to be close to full strength against the Huskies. Senior wide receiver Landis Williams (broken hand) is the only projected starter who is not expected to play. … As many as eight former Maine high school players could see action tonight. They include starting fullback Jared Turcotte of Lewiston, starting offensive linemen Tyler Eastman (Old Town) and Steve Shea (Corinna), defensive linemen Jordan Stevens (Temple) and Raibonne Charles (Windham), linebacker Levi Ervin (Lisbon Falls), QB Chris Treister (Cape Elizabeth) and punter Chris Gennaro (Saco).