ORONO, Maine — Five men, working effectively, together.
That is the essence of the philosophy espoused by the starting linemen for the University of Maine football team.
“There are no individuals on the offensive line,” said junior center Garret Williamson. “Everything we do has to be as one.”
An interview brought the group’s commitment into focus on Wednesday, when all five men showed up — as per offensive line rules — to speak with a Bangor Daily News reporter.
“We usually try to do everything as a group,” said junior left tackle Josh Spearin of Limington, who earned All-Colonial Athletic Association second-team honors this fall.
Williamson and Spearin, along with senior right tackle Steve Shea of Corinna, junior right guard Chris Howley and sophomore left guard Jeff Gakos, have been the engine for this year’s Black Bear offense.
Saturday afternoon, No. 13 UMaine (9-3) will need another strong performance from the O-line when it battles third-ranked Georgia Southern (10-2) in an NCAA Football Championship Subdivision national semifinal at Paulson Stadium in Statesboro, Ga.
Howley, an All-CAA first-team choice this season, said the Black Bears must maintain their approach.
“I think it’s pretty awesome for us, being in the second game of the playoffs,” he said. “I think we’re treating it like any other week of preparation.”
This season, UMaine has reaped the benefits of this experienced, committed offensive line. The five players average almost 28 Division I starts.
The Bears have put up some of the program’s best offensive numbers in several years. Their 29.8 points per game are the most since at least 2004, and their 379.8 yards per contest are the most since 2001.
“I think it all goes back to the fact that we’re all returning again,” Spearin said. “Everyone here has known each other for at least three years, so we’re a pretty tight group. We’re another year older, another year closer.”
UMaine’s starting unit is a formidable group. The quintet averages 6 feet 4 inches and 294 pounds.
UMaine offensive line coach and run game coordinator Frank Giufre explained the importance of experience up front.
“Everything we do is a learned movement,” said the former Syracuse lineman. “You can’t mimic it any other place.”
Giufre explained the “magic number” for a successful offensive line is 75 combined starts. This year’s group boasts 139, including all 12 games this season as a five-man unit.
That means most of them were thrust into the lineup as freshmen, which led to some hard lessons.
“They’ve got a little bit more seasoning; are more mature,” Giufre said. “They’ve been through battles.”
However, the physical part of playing in the trenches is only part of the equation. Playing a lot together means the Black Bears can pick things up and make adjustments, sometimes without saying a word.
“We have to be cohesive. We have to move as one,” Williamson said. “We have to be on the same page on every single play.”
And these guys aren’t only close on the field. They frequently hang out together and most of them live with at least one other offensive lineman.
Last season, Giufre impressed on them the need for establishing a closer bond, whether on or off the field.
“The guy next to you needs to know what you’re thinking, even if there’s no verbal communication,” he said.
That has helped foster a mutual respect and a collective work ethic that has benefited the Black Bears.
“I think the offense as a whole unit is extremely close, closer than it’s been since we’ve been here, at every position,” Howley said. “I think that’s a huge deal in what success we’ve had.”
This year’s offensive line also has continued to excel protecting quarterback Warren Smith. UMaine has allowed only 19 sacks in 12 games, despite putting the ball in the air 399 times.
That’s one sack every 21 pass attempts.
The offensive line, which includes 12 players in all, is a group that takes its queues from Giufre.
“He’s constantly pushing us as a unit and that brings us closer and closer together, working hard with each other,” Williamson said.
Even though Giufre praised the veterans’ ability to police themselves and set the standard for the up-and-comers, his influence is considerable.
“He’s going to get the best out of you, whether you like it or not,” quipped Howley.
The rest of the line contingent includes junior transfer Will Martin, sophomores Tyler Patterson and Doug Nash, and freshmen Ben Wezel, Dan Carriker, Bruce Johnson and Chase Hoyt.
Giufre praised the commitment and work ethic of the linemen to improve day in and day out.
“That’s my job, to make sure they don’t take anything for granted or take a day off,” he said.
Giufre makes sure they do it together.