ORONO — The University of Maine football team endured some painful moments during 2010.
The Black Bears finished 4-7 overall, 3-5 in the Colonial Athletic Association, and lost three games by a combined 10 points.
Coach Jack Cosgrove believes the experience gained from difficult situations and tough losses has strengthened the returning players.
“We either demonstrated a high level of inexperience or an inability to perform,” said the Black Bears’ 19th-year head coach.
“We certainly hope that (inexperience) has been addressed by those experiences last year,” he added. “We had some painful moments where we didn’t achieve and it cost us football games.”
UMaine eyes more offensive production behind seniors at quarterback, tailback, fullback and tight end, along with an improved offensive line.
Warren Smith (198-for-305 passing, 9 touchdowns, 10 interceptions) returns to direct the Bears’ spread package. He is complemented by a proven ballcarrier in senior tailback Pushaun Brown (650 yards, 5 touchdowns), senior slot receiver Derek Session (50 receptions, 580 yds., 1 TD) and tight end Derek Buttles (27-291-1).
Brown (22-148-2), junior wide receiver Maurice McDonald (12-135-1), sophomore WR Derrick Johnson (12-99-0) and sophomore tight end Justin Perillo (8-46-2) helped UMaine rank fifth in CAA passing offense last season (189.8 yards per game).
Junior TE Jeff Falvey is out indefinitely while recovering from knee surgery.
Sophomore Terrel Walker (11-116-1) and redshirt freshman David Hood will support Brown. Redshirt freshman Carlton Charles of Windham, the younger brother of senior Raibonne Charles, is among the candidates at the hybrid fullback-tight end position.
UMaine must run the ball better after netting only 132.2 ypg a year ago to rank seventh in the CAA.
“We feel like we’re a team that needs to run the football,” Cosgrove said. “Hopefully, that will allow us to be a play-action pass team.”
The line will set the tone. Tackle Steve Shea of Corinna is the lone senior of the group, which has three junior veterans in center Garret Williamson, tackle Josh Spearin of Limington and guard Chris Howley.
Sophomores Jeff Gakos and Doug Nash of Turner, a converted defensive lineman, are battling for the other spot.
Exhibiting an efficient run-pass balance, minimizing penalties and avoiding turnovers will determine whether the Bears can move up in CAA total offense (322 ypg in 2010) and scoring offense (17.9 ppg).
“We have to count on the fact that we’re working with pretty much the same crowd and we think that crowd’s gotten better,” Cosgrove said.
Last year, the Bears were a minus-seven in turnover margin and their 72.5 penalty yards per game were the most in the CAA.
“Our turnovers on offense are going to kill us, but if we’re getting them on defense, we’ve got a chance to be a really good football team,” Cosgrove said.
UMaine is building around six returning full-time defensive starters. That unit was beset by injuries last spring, resulting in the loss of all-league senior linebacker and leading tackler (108) Donte Dennis.
Also sidelined indefinitely are end Kris Enslen (knee), tackles Brent Rice (hip) and Spencer Wood (wrist), who also was the long-snapper, end Craig Capella and tackle DaShawn Thomas (broken leg).
The Bears feature senior leaders at all three levels. Linebacker Vinson Givans and safeties Jerron McMillian and Trevor Coston all have plenty of experience.
Tackle Raibonne Charles teams up inside with senior tackles Kevin Phanor and Ryan Nani. Junior Doug Alston and sophomore Michael Cole anchor the ends, where junior Erwin Roach and sophomore Craig Capella also will see action.
“He’s the heartbeat, the pulse of that defensive line,” Cosgrove said of Charles.
Givans, the No. 2 tackler last season (87), must elevate his play with the loss of Dennis. He is backed up by sophomore Shawn Bodtmann.
Redshirt freshman Arron Achey and junior transfer Sam Shipley step in for Dennis.
UMaine was steady against the run in 2010 (127 ypg), but ranked ninth in CAA pass efficiency defense and eighth in scoring defense (24.5 ppg).
The rover position is secure with an improved junior in Troy Russell and sophomore Troy Eastman in the mix.
McMillian, who is attracting attention from NFL scouts, and Coston are key cogs in the secondary.
“That’s our most experienced tandem on the football team,” Cosgrove said.
The backups at safety are sophomore Mike Mangiarelli, the only first-year man to play last year, and redshirt freshman Khari Al-Mateen.
A younger corps of cornerbacks is headed by the “James Gang,” junior Darlos James and sophomore Kendall James (no relation). Redshirt freshman Axel Ofori Jr. is the No. 3 corner.
The defense must be more cohesive and attentive to detail to eliminate some of the big plays that plagued it in 2010.
“We had some disappointments with pass coverage that ended up taking place in situations that were third-and-long, destructive times,” Cosgrove said.
UMaine is counting on three players to elevate its kicking game. Senior Jordan Waxman is handling punts (38.0 ypk) and kickoffs, while junior Brian Harvey (20-for-21 PATs, 7-for-10 FGs) is the place-kicker.
Redshirt freshman Jeff Ondish is the backup punter and kicker.
UMaine will use Coston (7.4-yard average) and McMillian on punt returns, while fifth-year senior Roosevelt Boone (19.9 ypr), Johnson and Kendall James will return kicks.
The Bears play three of their first five games on the road but don’t open their CAA schedule until Oct. 1 against Delaware, after a bye week.
“It’s very challenging, but it breaks up nice for us,” Cosgrove said.