ORONO, Maine — A youth movement is under way this season on the University of Maine football team.
That has been evident in recent weeks as the Black Bears (2-3 overall, 1-1 Colonial Athletic Association) have been unable to hold onto third-quarter leads while losing three straight contests.
Coach Jack Cosgrove is confident increased game experience will enable this UMaine team to demonstrate its potential as the season progresses.
“I think you’ll find that the teams with players who have been through it and experienced it before are going to be better off at it when it comes time to surface,” Cosgrove said.
The Bears’ roster is decidedly bottom-heavy. There are only 10 seniors and nine juniors among the 86 players, with 67 underclassmen (78 percent) making up the rest.
At the end of last season, UMaine had 27 upperclassmen (36 percent) and 49 underclassmen (64 percent) out of 76 players on the squad.
Last Saturday against Delaware, UMaine started 13 freshmen and redshirt freshmen, including seven on offense and six on defense. There were 10 sophomores among the starting.
“I think we really have gotten better as a football team but we’re not there yet in terms of the key moments in the game and being able to make a stop on a third down or to come up with a third-down [conversion] on offense,” Cosgrove said.
The Bears are receiving key contributions this season from numerous freshmen, including several first-year players.
Josh Spearin of Limington has already made a couple of starts at offensive tackle, while fullback Julian McCall has been contributing on special teams. On defense, cornerback Darlos James will made his first collegiate start Saturday at Hofstra after playing some already in a backup role.
Freshmen Troy Russell (LB), Maurice McDonald (WR), Spencer Wood (DL) and William Calvi (TE) also have appeared in games already.
Cosgrove said some first-year players are physically and mentally ready to make the jump from high school to Division I, usually as role players.
“We don’t put them in there if they’re not good enough and if they don’t understand and can’t execute our offensive and defensive play books,” Cosgrove said.
“You don’t want them to go in there if they’re not going to be successful and help us.”
Injuries sometimes force the hand of Cosgrove and his staff at positions that lack depth. Such has been the case this fall on the offensive line.
Short-term injuries to sophomore guard Steve Shea of Corinna and redshirt freshman guard Chris Howley opened the door for Spearin to get an early baptism.
“We’re hoping that it ends right there,” Cosgrove said. “We’ve got eight guys there now who we feel like we can piece a game together with.”
James emerged from a list of prospects at cornerback, where the Bears lost three veterans from last season and had two returnees who were coming off significant injuries.
“Darlos has been playing for a while,” Cosgrove said.
“We felt we were going to get to the point of him playing.”
Other underclass starters for UMaine include sophomores Warren Smith (quarterback), Garret Williamson (center), Matt Spearin (tackle), Conor Keating (fullback), Jordan Waxman (punter/place-kicker), Kevin Phanor (defensive tackle), Raibonne Charles (DT), Donte Dennis (linebacker), Trevor Coston (free safety) and Jerron McMillian (strong safety).
Injuries piling up for Bears
UMaine endured a costly game against Delaware at Alfond Stadium last Saturday.
Redshirt freshman defensive end Kris Enslen suffered a season-ending knee injury, a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. He had been among the defensive leaders, having made 25 tackles, including two quarterback sacks.
“It’s a disappointing loss,” Cosgrove said. “He’s a redshirt freshman who had stepped into a starting position and was really contributing tremendously to the defensive side of the football.”
Enslen will be replaced by redshirt freshman Doug Alston, who has some game experience.
Freshman defensive lineman Spencer Wood also was hurt Saturday. He suffered a broken hand that is expected to keep him out of action four to six weeks.
Wood also was UMaine’s backup long snapper.
The secondary took a hit when junior cornerback Dominic Cusano suffered a concussion. He will miss Saturday’s game at Hofstra.
Senior linebacker Mark Masterson will not make the trip, either. He was hurt in the first half of the Sept. 12 game at Northeastern and has not returned because of a right ankle injury.
Backup linebacker Levi Ervin of Lisbon Falls will miss his second game in a row after suffering a concussion at Syracuse.