ORONO, Maine — Last year, the University of Maine football team led the Colonial Athletic Association in passing.
In 2008, coach Jack Cosgrove’s Black Bears boasted one of the league’s most productive rushing attacks.
Next fall, UMaine hopes to unleash a multifaceted attack as it seeks its first conference championship since 2002.
“We want to stay as balanced as we can between the run and the pass,” said UMaine offensive line coach Frank Giufre. “We’re going to do whatever we can do, running the ball, throwing the ball, to help this team win.”
The Bears utilized eight different linemen, including an NFL-bound senior in Tyler Eastman of Old Town along with a junior, a sophomore and three first-time starters. Throw into that mix a pair of redshirt freshmen and a transfer and UMaine has plenty of potential.
“This is the deepest group I’ve been on as far as talent-wise,” said Matt Barber, who will be the lone senior in the group next season. “Every one of us can play at this level and be successful, so that’s pretty exciting.”
Last season, five players made at least eight starts in 11 games. That contingent included Barber (8 starts at right guard) sophomores-to-be Garret Williamson (9 starts, center) and Chris Howley (9 starts, left guard), Steve Shea of Corinna (8 starts, three different spots), and sophomore Josh Spearin of Limington (8 starts, right tackle).
Sophomore Matt Spearin of Limington also started two games at right tackle and appeared in five games.
“We try to cross-train everybody and get them ready, because who knows what the season has to offer,” Giufre said. “The more guys we have that can help us at different positions, the better off we’ll be, not only as an offensive line but as a team.”
UMaine hopes to get back to its “pound the rock,” run philosophy next fall. That will require individual progress as well as chemistry within the offensive line group.
And the Bears hope to welcome back powerhouse running back Jared Turcotte of Lewiston, who missed the 2009 season after undergoing two surgeries to repair sports hernias in his lower abdomen.
“He’s a big, bruising back,” Barber said. “Offensive linemen love that, coming ‘downhill.’ We’re another year older. You put us both together, I think it’s going to be a good combination.”
Turcotte is expected to be complemented by the likes of tailbacks Pushaun Brown, Terrel Walker and Roosevelt Boone.
Meanwhile, the offensive line continues to build depth with redshirt freshmen Jeff Gakos, Joe Hook and Tyler Patterson of Rockland, along with sophomore transfer Will Martin.
The 10 offensive linemen who appeared on the Bears’ two-deep chart this spring average better than 6-foot-3½ and 291½ pounds.
“They’re young and they’re big,” said UMaine junior quarterback Warren Smith. “They’re smart and they’re learning quick.”
Players such as Gakos and Hook got more work this spring with Howley and Josh Spearin recovering from offseason surgery and Williamson limited late during spring ball.
“Any time you have injuries, guys have got to pick up the slack,” Giufre said.
“We need some of the younger guys, along with some of the older guys, to step up and do a good job developing and showing leadership,” he added.
This summer, the linemen will continue to train, lift weights, watch film and prepare for the 2010 season. Giufre said it’s difficult to say who the five starters might be come UMaine’s opener against Albany.
One thing is for sure, there will be a healthy battle for staring positions and playing time.
“Competition breeds competition,” Giufre said. “I want to see it in everything the guys do.”
Bears hand out annual awards
The UMaine football team handed out its 2009 season awards during last Friday’s annual team banquet.
Senior Jordan Stevens of Temple took home the Harold Westerman Award as the Most Valuable Player, senior wide receiver Landis Williams was named the Jack Butterfield Outstanding Offensive Player, Eastman earned the Sam Sezak Outstanding Offensive Lineman Award and sophomore Donte Dennis was named the Walter Abbott Outstanding Defensive Player.
Senior Eric Lee was presented with the Roger Ellis Outstanding Defensive Lineman Award, senior Brandon McLaughlin earned the Woody Carville Student-Athlete Achievement Award and Mike Brusko claimed the Ron Rogerson Spirit Award.
Josh Spearin (offense) and Darlos James (defense) were recognized as the Thurlow Cooper Rookies of the Year, junior Ryan McCrossan was selected the George Wood Outstanding Special Teams Player and Jhamal Clay (offense) and Walker (defense) were chosen the Jim Butterfield Scout Team Players of the Year.
Matt Spearing claimed the “Maine Man” Strength and Conditioning Award.