ORONO, Maine — The shrill, repetitive tweet of the coaches’ whistles filled the chilly November air Tuesday evening as the University of Maine football team went through a practice session on Morse Field at Alfond Stadium.
Coach Jack Cosgrove’s 13th-ranked Black Bears appeared focused on their drills as they geared up for Saturday’s NCAA Football Championship Subdivision playoff game against No. 9 Appalachian State at Kidd Brewer Stadium in Boone, N.C.
UMaine returned to the practice field Sunday afternoon after being given Wednesday through Saturday off by the coaching staff. While some players were able to sneak home for Thanksgiving with their families, the break was designed to help them rest their tired, sore bodies and their minds heading into postseason.
Senior safety Trevor Coston said the days off were appreciated and very much needed by the players.
“It was great to get our legs back and get healthy,” said Coston, who is among several players who have been nursing injuries in recent weeks.
The renewal of body and spirit was evident as soon as the Bears returned to the practice field.
“Not only speaking for myself, but you could tell from (Sunday’s) practice that the whole team enjoyed the time off,” Coston said. “It was probably one of the fastest practices we’ve had since preseason; people running, feeling great. You could tell that everybody was really excited and that the break was wonderful for us.”
Cosgrove admits his team would have been physically challenged if it had had to play one of last Saturday’s four, first-round playoff games.
He agreed UMaine players appeared refreshed and revitalized after being able to put football on the back burner for a few days.
“We were fortunate to get the bye and felt like it was much-needed,” Cosgrove said. “I’m very excited about the state of the union of our guys, their spirit and how they looked physically (upon their return from the break).”
While a 12-week regular season, including one bye week, takes a considerable toll on college football players, the Bears believe they are well-prepared, seasoned.
UMaine competes in the Colonial Athletic Association, which is perennially among the nation’s top FCS conferences. That kind of consistency of competition helps get the Bears ready for games like Saturday’s playoff contest.
“We talked to them about what this conference does for us, the competitive nature of the CAA,” Cosgrove said. “There are 16 teams left and five of them are from our conference.”
Playing in the CAA “hardens you, toughens you, prepares you for a tournament,” he added.
Tempering the knowledge the CAA has helped put the Bears in position to challenge for a national championship is the reality of playoff football. Now, it’s win or go home.
“There’s a finality to it,” Cosgrove said. “It puts a little bit of fear into the bloodstream and raises the level of play. From what I saw from our team (upon their return), they’re ready to take on the challenge.”
UMaine is scheduled to practice again Thursday before departing Bangor on Friday morning via a charter jet.
Cosgrove said the fact the Bears have to take another plane trip for a game shouldn’t faze this group.
“We’ve made that a major point of emphasis,” he said. “We were on the road six times this year and went 4-2. I’m pleased with that part of it, the businesslike approach that our guys have taken and embraced.”
UMaine’s Cosgrove honored
Cosgrove picked up a coaching honor Tuesday when he was announced as the New England Football Writers Division I Coach of the Year.
UMaine also placed safety Jerron McMillian, offensive guard Chris Howley and wide receiver Maurice McDonald on the All-New England team.
Cosgrove, the Bears’ 19th-year head coach has guided his team to an 8-3 record, including a 6-2 Colonial Athletic Association mark, this season. UMaine had been picked to finish ninth in the CAA preseason coaches poll,
Cosgrove is the first UMaine coach to earn the NEFW accolade since Tom Lichtenberg was the group’s choice back in 1989.