ORONO, Maine — Warren Smith brings a bit of a wild west mentality to the football field for the University of Maine.
When he and the Black Bear gang come to town, Smith is armed and dangerous. He’s bold, not afraid to take shots at those who cross his path.
The sophomore transfer from Iona College is UMaine’s latest hired gun.
“My coach last year told me I was a ‘gunslinger,’” said Smith, who earned the starting quarterback job prior to last week’s game at Syracuse.
He passed for 305 yards and three touchdowns in a 41-21 loss at the Carrier Dome.
“It was a great atmosphere to play in,” Smith said. “It was crazy. It was a real good experience.”
Smith also was intercepted twice, giving him four in three games thus far.
“He still has a lot of things to learn,” UMaine coach Jack Cosgrove said of Smith, who transferred last winter after Iona disbanded its program.
“He bounces back. He does take coaching,” Cosgrove said. “He’s still learning the game and he’s going to make mistakes. The most important thing is he doesn’t make them again.”
Smith, a native of Forked River, N.J., leads UMaine into Saturday’s 6 p.m. Colonial Athletic Association game against Delaware at Alfond Stadium in Orono. He grew up idolizing another risk-taking QB, Brett Favre.
“I like the way [Favre] approaches the game mentally and physically,” Smith said. “He’s always having fun out there.”
Smith has appeared in three games for UMaine. He has completed 42 of 64 passes (.656) for 517 yards and four TDs.
Smith admits it has been a challenge going from a nonscholarship program at Iona to a more competitive Football Championship Subdivision setting at UMaine. He has been trying to learn the complexities of the offense since his arrival.
Cosgrove said perhaps it was fate that brought Smith to Orono.
The Bears had first-hand knowledge of his ability, since they played Iona last Nov. 1 and had seen extensive game film of Smith. And UMaine wouldn’t have had a scholarship to offer Smith had Bears QB Adam Farkes not decided to transfer out after the 2008 season.
Smith said the aftermath of the 2008 season left his head spinning. After being lightly recruited out of Lacey Township High School — where head coach Lou Vircillo was known as “up the middle Lou” — his stock had risen considerably.
“There was way more [interest],” Smith said, “so much more it was unbelievable.”
With a scholarship offer from UMaine on the table and Smith sensing the school and the football program would be a good fit, he became a Black Bear.
“I was looking for a competitive Division I team in a competitive league to have a shot to play for a championship one day,” Smith said.
Leaving his friends and family behind, Smith headed north to start over. He said he was welcomed into the program by coaches and players alike.
The transition was made easier by his first roommate, offensive lineman Will Martin of Sacred Heart, another transfer.
Smith met often with offensive coordinator Kevin Bourgoin, who began teaching him UMaine’s offense. He also was embraced by senior Mike Brusko and sophomore Chris Treister of Cape Elizabeth, the Bears’ returning quarterbacks.
“I feel like we actually became brothers over the offseason and preseason,” Smith said. “We try to help each other out all the time.”
Smith’s transition was made easier by the fact he played a lot at Iona. He credited former Gaels quarterbacks coach John Kaleo with giving him a solid Division I foundation.
“He said that I had the potential to play for whoever was looking at me,” Smith said. “He kind of raised my confidence.”
Smith made his first UMaine start last week. His passing expedited his insertion.
“He’s got a gift for throwing the football,” Cosgrove said.
“He’s made really good advancements. We’re happy he made the decision [to attend UMaine] and we’re hoping he’ll continue to grow,” he added.
Smith has exhibited the ability to run the ball and the toughness to absorb hits, but what he loves most is making big plays throwing the football.
“That’s what brings the best out of a quarterback,” Smith said. “It could all come down on top of you and you’d be the one everyone points the finger it. It’s high-risk, high-reward.”
The challenge for Smith is to temper his gunslinger mentality with a more restrained approach in some situations.
“I’m learning from it,” Smith said. “I’ve got to take what the defense gives me.
“I feel like I’m maturing as a quarterback, building on the good things and fixing the mistakes.”