ORONO, Maine — Jared Turcotte watched Saturday’s Jeff Cole Spring Scrimmage from the same uncomfortable place he spent the entire 2009 football season — the sideline.
The rugged running back from Lewiston was among numerous University of Maine players recovering from offseason surgery or injuries who were forced to sit out the Black Bears’ last practice of the school year.
Turcotte, a former Fitzpatrick Trophy winner, was eager to participate, but realizes he isn’t quite ready.
“I just didn’t want to get back into full contact too early, get out there and tweak something, roll an ankle,” he said.
An estimated 300 fans, family and friends of the Bears turned out on a gorgeous, sunny morning to get a preview of UMaine’s 2010 squad.
The scrimmage honors former Bears assistant coach Cole, who died in 2004 after fighting cancer.
Saturday’s event also served as a fundraiser for UMaine graduate Ashley Drew of Scarborough, who is battling cystic fibrosis and needs a lung transplant.
The Bears clearly were nowhere near at full strength.
“We probably had the most guys we’ve ever had in red shirts or not full go today,” Maine coach Jack Cosgrove said. “A lot of that’s us being cautious in their management and not pushing the envelope and risking injury.”
Turcotte, who last year underwent two surgeries to repair sports hernias, was practicing last month in a limited, noncontact role.
“I need to hit somebody,” Turcotte said with a chuckle. “It’s definitely nice to be back out on the field and running around with the guys again instead of being on the sideline.”
Cosgrove and the UMaine athletic training staff maintain a conservative approach during the spring. They realize there is nothing to be gained from exposing players to further risk of injury.
The list of UMaine potential starters held out also included linebacker Mark Masterson, tailback Derek Session, placekicker Jordan Waxman, defensive end Kris Enslen, offensive linemen Chris Howley and Garret Williamson, tight ends Derek Buttles and Jeff Falvey, defensive tackles Raibonne Charles, Ryan Nani and Kevin Phanor, and wide receiver Des Randall.
Players experiencing health issues aren’t put in harm’s way in order to rest and recover fully during the spring and summer. That philosophy opens the door for many less experienced players to get valuable practice time and showcase their talents.
“We would have liked to have more guys out there, we didn’t,” Cosgrove said. “I think that helps you from the bottom up with younger players getting opportunities and having a chance to seize those opportunities and have some success.”
The offense got the best of the scrimmage, which consisted of 50 plays from scrimmage, including two field goals. Despite wearing a red mesh vest indicating he wasn’t to be tackled, quarterback Warren Smith was solid.
Smith, who will be a junior next season, completed 10 of 14 passes for 103 yards, including a 4-yard scoring pass to freshman running back Terrel Walker.
Smith is still slowed after having surgery in November to fuse together a broken bone in his foot.
“My foot’s fine, but they were real cautious about it,” Smith said.
“I wanted to make progress and try to help my team grow. I thought my leadership abilities at the quarterback position would help them.”
Walker, who was named the Bears’ Scout Team Player of the Year (Defense), had four carries for eight yards and the TD. He also caught five passes for 54 yards and a score.
Tailback Pushaun Brown led all rushers with 19 yards on five carries. Freshman wideout Derrick Johnson made five receptions for 40 yards and frosh tight end Justin Perillo showed off soft hands with four catches for 64 yards.
Perillo’s efforts included a nifty 7-yard scoring reception on a pass from Chris Treister of Cape Elizabeth (5-for-6, 39 yards, TD). Perillo came back on an underthrown ball, tipped it over safety Troy Eastman, and then made the grab in the end zone.
“This was the first day that the offense had that type of success,” Cosgrove said of the spring season. “It was really good to see a variety of good things happen, whether it was throwing the ball, running the ball, catching the ball, execution.”
Freshman Marcus Wasilewski (5-7, 47 yards) also saw time at QB.
Brian Harvey booted field goals of 33 and 34 yards.
The defense spread out its efforts, with safety Jerron McMillian, end Doug Alston among the leaders.
McGowan returns to campus
Former UMaine star Brandon McGowan made a rare return to Orono to watch the scrimmage.
McGowan, now a safety with the NFL’s New England Patriots, enjoyed being able to visit Orono.
“It’s different. A lot of flashbacks, a lot of memories went through the head,” he said. “It’s great out here to get to see the coaches, the new players, and some of the coaches that I played with.”
McGowan took a few moments to address the team in the locker room after the scrimmage.
“[I told them] stay healthy, stay in shape, stay in school,” McGowan said.