ORONO — One is a self-described “gun-slinger,” the other more measured in describing himself but no less confident in his ability to quarterback the University of Maine football team.
Together, Warren Smith and Chris Treister enabled the Black Bears to lead the Colonial Athletic Association in passing last fall with an average of 247.6 yards per game.
Yet there’s only room for one of them in the starting lineup as Maine approaches its Sept. 2 season opener against the University of Albany, making the battle for the starting quarterback job the major mystery of preseason camp.
“I’m not looking at it as a rivalry,” said Smith, the gunslinger. “We’re working together with this, and even though one of us is going to get picked, it’s going to be good for the whole team.”
As for the former Black Bear quarterback who must make the final choice, Maine head coach Jack Cosgrove, it won’t be a decision easily made.
“There are stats that determine those things,” said Cosgrove during the team’s Media Day activities Wednesday at Alfond Stadium. “But there’s also an aura, a confidence, a swagger, a level of leadership a quarterback has that’s evident in the chemistry he has with his teammates.”
“Both of these guys have that, which makes this job of choosing one even harder. There’s a tremendous level of respect for both Warren and Chris among their teammates. They see both of them as extensions of themselves, it’s just that Warren and Chris get to play the best position in sports.”
This is not the first quarterback duel between the duo.
Maine expected to be a run-oriented team a year ago after ranking among the CAA’s rushing leaders during the team’s 2008 run to an NCAA playoff berth.
But then All-American tailback Jared Turcotte was sidelined with sports hernias before the 2009 season began, leaving run-oriented quarterback Michael Brusko without his primary weapon.
So Plan B last fall was to turn to more of a passing game, with either Smith or Treister in charge.
Each got his chance.
Smith, who transferred from Iona when that school folded its football program after the 2008 season, got the initial call and played in eight games, completing 61 percent of his passes for 1,695 yards with 12 touchdowns and 13 interceptions before suffering a season-ending injury to his left foot.
Treister, the former Fitzpatrick Trophy finalist from Cape Elizabeth and Portland High School, stepped into the breach with a record-setting performance against Rhode Island in his first college start, completing 40 of 46 passes for 468 yards and five touchdowns.
“It was tough,” said Treister, “but what I knew was that I had to be ready for when my chance came, and I felt pretty good about how I played when I got the chance.”
He followed that up with a solid effort in a season-ending loss to New Hampshire and finished the year completing 69 of 96 passes (72 percent) for 771 yards with seven touchdowns and four interceptions — all leading to an offseason of speculation as to who would be called first in 2010.
“We were just in a situation last year where we couldn’t run the football, and we knew we had to make a decision,” said Cosgrove, whose 2009 team finished with a 5-6 record. “We went with Warren and he turned out better than we thought he would be coming into a new system, but then he gets hurt and Chris comes in, and I’ll go to my grave believing I’ll never, never be more impressed than I was with what he did in his first start. That was really a special afternoon for him, and he did well against New Hampshire the next week, too.
“All of a sudden we’re going ‘Whoa, we’ve got a couple of quarterbacks,’ and like I’ve said to many people many times, we’ve had one as good before but never two as good.”
Little has changed since then to alter Cosgrove’s opinion, and while both quarterbacks are confident of their place within the University of Maine football program, there’s also a sense of anticipation of their coach’s decision to come.
“It’s pretty exciting,” said Treister. “Competition is always good, so I’m just focused on doing the best I can in practice every day.”
The competition for the starting quarterback job features its share of similarities. Smith is 6-foot-1, 205 pounds, Treister 6-foot, 200, and both have displayed mobility within the pocket and while scrambling.
“We’re both competing for one spot,” said Smith. “I have a mindset that I want to be No. 1, and I think Chris is the same way.
“No matter what, though, this competition is making both of us play to a high level, and with us playing to a high level it brings the whole offense up.”
Both also share leadership skills that leaves Cosgrove comfortable no matter who ultimately gets the starting berth.
“To say they’re blue-collar kids is true, because they do everything everyone else on this team does and they treat everyone with tremendous respect,” Cosgrove said. “There’s no Hollywood with either one of these guys, and because of that we’re really going to be challenged in making a decision.
Exactly when that decision will be made isn’t certain, as Cosgrove will use intrasquad scrimmages to help make his determination.
But once the decision is made, the Black Bears will be a one-quarterback team — sort of.
“We’ve had some two-quarterback deals in the past, but this isn’t one of those,” Cosgrove said. “This is one of those times when we need to put one of them in charge because that’s when they’re at their best, and that’s what we have to do to help whoever it is be their best.
“But the other thing we’ll know when we do it is that the guy standing next to us on the sidelines is pretty damn good, too.”