ORONO — Warren Smith has demonstrated skill and improvement during his final preseason camp with the University of Maine football team.
His play late in camp has earned him the starting quarterback job, head coach Jack Cosgrove announced Thursday evening.
Smith, a senior from Forked River, N.J., had been competing for the spot with classmate Chris Treister of Cape Elizabeth — for the second straight season. Cosgrove said Smith finally broke the stalemate.
“We think Warren, over the course of about five days through Tuesday of this week, had a very high level of performance and we felt like he asserted himself and created some separation in regard to their play,” Cosgrove said.
“I kept saying I don’t have a timetable and you’d like it to be that it becomes obvious where he’s the guy and that’s what we felt happened,” he added.
Smith tried not to get caught up in the emotion of the competition. He has been in the same position before.
“I’ve never had an offseason where I had it handed to me,” said Smith, who was informed of the decision Wednesday night. “I’m kind of used to it. I kind of enjoy it, because it makes you bring your ‘A’ game to the table every day.”
Smith also had beaten out Treister prior to the 2010 season, but wound up losing the job to him before the next-to-last game of the season against Towson, during which Treister suffered a season-ending finger injury.
The two have supported each other throughout, in spite of trying to win the same spot.
“Chris is one of my better friends on the football team,” Smith said. “There wasn’t any tension between us. We take it day by day. We’ve both got to prepare because you never know, anything can happen.”
This time, Smith stood out with his improved play toward the end of preseason.
“His decision-making has been very good. He’s been much more disciplined in his ball security,” Cosgrove said. “That’s really something that he had to demonstrate, which he has.”
Cosgrove said he and the staff have confidence in Treister, a competent quarterback who can perform if called upon.
“Chris is an experienced quarterback in this league,” Cosgrove said. “He’s won football games and played very well. We have to keep him ready and at a high performance level as we move forward.”
Smith was first named UMaine’s starter early in the 2009 season, supplanting then-senior Mike Brusko. He had transferred from Iona College, which disbanded its program after his freshman season in 2008.
Smith then saw most of the action in 2010. He completed 198 of 305 passes for 1,861 yards but he had more interceptions (10) than touchdown passes (9).
Treister, a former Portland High standout, completed 22 of 45 passes for 221 yards and a touchdown last season, when the QB position was marked by inconsistency and turnovers.
That is the main reason the job was back up for grabs during the offseason.
“Last year was not a good year for our quarterback position, (in terms of) turnovers and moving the sticks (first-down markers),” Cosgrove said. “It’s part of the program that’s got to improve.”
Smith, who appeared to be the more efficient of the quarterbacks during Tuesday’s intrasquad scrimmage, was candid about what he must do to help the Bears win.
“I need to make smarter decisions and limit the turnovers. Ball security’s the No. 1 issue,” Smith said. “I needed to work on my footwork in the pocket and be more accurate with (throwing) the football.”
In the past, Smith has demonstrated the stronger arm of the two quarterbacks, but has shown a propensity for interceptions. In 19 games at UMaine, he has passed for 21 touchdowns, but has been intercepted 23 times.
Cosgrove and Smith both hope that trend does not continue.
“We’re not asking our quarterbacks to carry us on their backs,” Cosgrove said. “We’re asking them to be efficient, be accurate in their throws, make the right checks, move the team, inspire the team and get the chains rolling.”
Treister also has exhibited the ability to lead UMaine to victory. On Nov. 17, 2009, he made an impressive starting debut in place of the injured Smith.
Treister completed 40 of 46 passes for 468 yards and five touchdowns in a Colonial Athletic Association 44-17 victory over Rhode Island at Alfond Stadium.
The completions and his .870 completion percentage both set school single-game records.
Treister also rushed for a team-best 35 yards and another TD.
UMaine opens its season Sept. 3 with a 5 p.m. home game against Bryant University.