Warren Smith has never taken an easy road to the job as a starting quarterback. He has always had to win it.
For the second time in 11 months, the junior from Forked River, N.J., has been named the starter for the University of Maine football team.
Smith will direct the offense Thursday at 7 p.m. when the Black Bears open the season against Albany at Alfond Stadium in Orono.
He earned the nod Sunday from Black Bears head coach Jack Cosgrove and offensive coordinator Kevin Bourgoin, who have been evaluating Smith and classmate Chris Treister of Cape Elizabeth since the end of last season.
“It was a hard decision and it’s a credit to their abilities,” Cosgrove said. “It wasn’t something where one guy separated himself from the other substantially.”
During the course of training camp, Smith was just a little bit better than Treister in his on-field performance.
“He [Smith] just played a little better at times. It came down to that,” Cosgrove said.
Smith said playing the waiting was difficult.
“I just wanted to know what the decision was. We have a football game in four days,” Smith said.
“There’s no more thinking about it. Right now, we have to think about Albany and getting our first win.”
Smith, a 6-foot-1, 205-pound transfer from Iona College, which dropped its program after the 2008 season, had first won the starting job at UMaine going into the fourth game of the 2009 season, when he replaced senior Mike Brusko.
Prior to UMaine, he had won the position as a senior at Lacey Township High School, then took over as a true freshman at Iona after an injury to a senior starter.
“I’ve always had to battle,” Smith said. “I’m used to it. I like the competition. Chris pushed me to the limit.”
He said the duel for the position has benefited the quarterbacks and the team.
“Me and Chris competing at quarterback position helped bring our offense to a different level,” Smith said. “We had to bring our ‘A’ game every day.”
Last season, UMaine was 2-4 in Smith’s six starts before he sustained a season-ending foot injury during the Nov. 7 game at James Madison. He underwent surgery in November and returned to practice last spring.
Smith played in eight games and completed 159 of 260 passes (.612) for 1,695 yards and 12 touchdowns with 13 interceptions.
Treister, a former Portland High School star, started the last two games of the 2009 season. In his debut as a starter Nov. 14 against Rhode Island, he set school records for completions (40) and completion percentage (.870), going 40-for-46 to net 468 yards and five touchdowns in a 41-17 victory at Morse Field.
The 6-foot, 200-pounder also played in the Bears’ season-ending 27-24 loss at New Hampshire. He finished the season completing 69 of 96 passes for 771 yards with seven TDs and four interceptions.
Smith and Treister combined to make UMaine the most prolific passing team in the Colonial Athletic Association last season as the Bears accounted for 247.6 passing yards per game.
Smith said he and Treister had talked about the day the decision was made and made a commitment they would support each other in spite of any lingering disappointment.
“Of course I felt bad for Chris because I felt like he deserved it just as much as I did,” Smith said. “Chris took it very well. He’s a very strong individual and he’s going to help out this team in any way, shape or form. It’s good to know we have a pretty damned good backup.”
Cosgrove reiterated UMaine has no intention of platooning the two quarterbacks and instead will see how effective Smith can be leading the offense.
“We’re going to put somebody in charge and roll with them,” he said. “We’re fortunate that we have a very good No. 2, but we’ll see what becomes of that.”