ORONO — Mike Hodgson grew up in an Army family, which meant he moved around a lot.
In 1975, he arrived at the University of Maine as an undergraduate. He spent the next 15 years in Maine, first as a student-athlete, then as a football coach.
After working as an assistant at UMaine, his coaching career took him to Princeton, Maine Maritime Academy, Central Connecticut, Edinboro and Dartmouth. Finally, he has returned to Maine.
The 54-year-old Hodgson has been hired as the assistant athletic director for development at UMaine.
“Because of my career in football, I never really had the chance to get back involved with the University of Maine, which is something that I really regretted,” Hodgson said. “This gave me that opportunity.”
UMaine athletic director Steve Abbott said the new position will allow Hodgson to utilize both his outgoing personality and his experience in college athletics.
“He works with our friends groups, which is the core of our fan base. Mike is their person,” Abbott said.
He explained that Hodgson, who earned a bachelor’s degree from UMaine in 1979 and a master’s in 1982, will organize events in conjunction with athletic contests, handle the football team’s charter trips and will be responsible for the UMaine Sports Hall of Fame and its induction dinner and events.
The exceptions are the booster organizations for the men’s and women’s ice hockey programs. They will be overseen by Josh MacDonald, who has been promoted to director of hockey operations.
“Everybody associates the word ‘development’ with fundraising,” Hodgson said. “I like to refer to it as friend-raising. That’s kind of how I want to approach it.”
Hodgson hopes to streamline the relationship between the friends groups, Black Bear teams and the UMaine athletic department in the hope of bringing them all together to support athletics.
“My job is to bring some enthusiasm, excitement, into everything that I touch and try and find a way to make the whole athletic department run on the same system,” Hodgson said.
“What I want is to give them (friends groups) someone to run things through so that communication from athletics to the development department to the campus kind of runs through me and I can direct them or make sure things are flowing in the right direction in terms of gifts and where they should be placed,” he explained.
Hodgson walked away from coaching after the 2009-10 season at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H. He had spent 31 years as a football coach, including a five-year stint as the head man at MMA in Castine.
With son Ken and daughter Cassie, a UMaine softball captain, moving on, Hodgson and his wife Raenn (Wile), a Presque Isle native and UMaine graduate, decided the time was right to move back to Maine.
Hodgson showed up last fall in the office of Abbott, who was then the interim AD, and offered his help. Abbott realized this former Black Bear could be a valuable asset to the department.
“He has a fantastic personality and he’s somebody who’s always fun to see and to talk to,” Abbott offered. “He loves the University of Maine and he believes in the importance of the university and the importance of athletics.”
Hodgson worked behind the scenes, doing some research to help Abbott formulate his plan for the athletic department. In the meantime, he joined forces with UMaine family relations and human sexuality professor Sandra Caron to write a book.
“Tackling Football: A Woman’s Guide to Understanding the College Game,” was the byproduct of discussions the two had some 25 years ago. It was published recently.
This summer, Abbott was looking for someone to undertake a new challenge in the athletic department. He immediately knew the right man for the job.
“There’s definitely a fundraising component to it, but he’s really dealing with the fans,” Abbott said. “It’s a ton of work and that’s why Mike was so perfect, because of his experience and his love of the university.”
Hodgson played football at UMaine from 1975-78. He was a three-year starter at tight end and handled place-kicking duties.
In fact, Hodgson played a pivotal role in one of the most memorable plays in UMaine sports history.
On Oct. 14, 1978, in a steady rain at Durham, N.H., UMaine head coach Jack Bicknell’s team was tied 0-0 with New Hampshire. The Bears lined up for an apparent field-goal try from the UNH 28-yard line, but Bicknell had called for the “bat ball” play.
“We had practiced this all during the week,” Hodgson said. “Sometimes it worked, but most of the time it didn’t.”
Bill LeRoy hiked the ball back to holder Tony Trafton, who tossed the ball up to Hodgson. He, in turn, spiked the ball volleyball style over the line of scrimmage and into the end zone.
“Our guys, as soon as the ball was snapped, they didn’t block anybody because they knew if they recovered it, they’d get a touchdown,” said Hodgson, who has possession of the film showing the play.
“Bill LeRoy’s pushing Tommy Sullivan out of the way trying to get the ball and (tight end) David Higgins ended up falling on it for a touchdown,” he added.
The game ended in a 7-7 tie.
“The next day they had it on ‘The NFL Today’ and the next week I was in Sports Illustrated,” Hodgson said. “I guess that’s my claim to fame.”
The play caused such a stir nationally that the NCAA football rules committee — including former UMaine head coach Dave Nelson, who had talked about such a play in a book he wrote and who in 1978 was the secretary of the same committee — changed football rules to outlaw such a tactic.
Looking ahead, Hodgson hopes there is plenty of excitement involving UMaine athletics during 2011-12.
“I’m really looking forward to it,” he said. “I’m excited about being back at Maine.”