ORONO — University of Maine football players lingered on the FieldTurf of Morse Field after the completion of Saturday’s Jeff Cole Spring Scrimmage at Alfond Stadium.
While it might seem there should have been a collective sense of relief among the Black Bears, having their spring season over, many were already looking ahead.
UMaine players stressed the importance of their upcoming summer workouts.
More than 50 team members are expected to return to Orono, where they will spend the summer. They will run, lift weights and go through position-specific workouts with their teammates.
“We try to get as many guys up here as we can,” said senior defensive lineman Raibonne Charles of Windham. “You’re always shooting for the whole team, but we’ll see.”
Even though the team can’t practice with footballs out and coaches present, they can accomplish plenty. Quarterbacks can throw passes to receivers and running backs, while linebackers and defensive backs can work on covering receivers.
While UMaine head coach Jack Cosgrove can’t direct the players to remain in Orono, there is a built-in sense of responsibility to do so.
“It becomes more of a self-motivating than a group-motivating experience,” Cosgrove said.
“If you love football, it’s plain fun,” he added. “If you’re on the borderline, it’s an obligation.”
Charles, who has summered in Orono since he enrolled at UMaine in 2008, spoke to his teammates about the importance of the summer experience last Friday night.
“I said, ‘you’re a Division I football player now, you’re a man. This is your home for four or five years. That’s the bottom line.’”
Many of the players work summer jobs, some of them together. Others may take summer classes.
The experience goes beyond what happens in the athletic realm.
“You’re getting to know people off the field, which translates to be pretty important on the field,” Charles said.
Senior quarterback Warren Smith, a New Jersey native, said spending the summer in Orono is part of the UMaine football experience. It’s one that has grown on him.
“I like being up here now,” he said. “All my best friends are here. Don’t get me wrong, I like seeing my family, but we signed up for this and we want to win, so that’s what it’s going to take.”
Smith said he is motivated to have a memorable final season.
“I’m not going out like I went out last year,” said Smith, who wound up being replaced as the starter late in the season, during which UMaine finished with a 4-7 record.
He explained that even though the Bears will work hard to become stronger, faster and more efficient at their respective positions, there are other dynamics that will determine how far UMaine goes in the quest to earn its first NCAA playoff spot since 2008.
“You’ve got to limit penalties, you’ve got to be disciplined,” Smith said. “I think last year was a reality check. We can work hard and be talented, but if we don’t do those little things, the league will spit us right out.”
Cosgrove applauded his players for taking the initiative to remain in Orono. He figures it comes with the territory.
“Student-athletes, with what’s on their plate to be successful, to be champions, it’s a job,” said Cosgrove, who is set to begin his 18th season as the Bears’ head coach. “They have to be committed to that. They have to be disciplined, they have to make sacrifices. They have to embrace the right attitude and the right level of effort.”
Cosgrove believes the 16-member senior class is setting the tone for 2011 squad. He thinks their level of experience will be an important dynamic in the success of the program.
The question now is, “can we advance our skill level and our ability level to where we can compete to win a CAA championship? We’re still working toward that,” Cosgrove said.
“We’ve got a long summer in front of us,” he added. “We’ve got a lot of time where the guys have to honor each other’s commitment and to look in the mirror every day and make sure they’re doing their part to keep growing, to keep advancing.”
UMaine football awards
UMaine football handed out its team awards during last Friday’s year-end banquet at Wells Commons.
Junior linebacker Donte Dennis was honored as UMaine’s Most Valuable Player, while junior tight end Derek Buttles was named the Bears’ Offensive Player of the Year. He, along with senior cornerback Dominic Cusano and senior linebacker Ryan McCrosson, earned the Captain’s Award.
Junior safety Jerron McMillian was selected as the Defensive Player of the Year, sophomore Chris Howley was chosen the Offensive Lineman of the Year and junior Kevin Phanor was tabbed the Defensive Lineman of the Year. Michael Cole and Joe Hook were named the co-Rookies of the Year.
Other award winners included: Matt Barber, senior Student-Athlete Achievement Award; senior Levi Ervin and junior Conor Keating, Spirit/Dedication Award; Jeremy Kelley, Special Teams Player of the Year; and Erwin Roach and David Hood, Scout Team Players of the Year.