ORONO, Maine — Ryan Stroud arrived at the University of Maine two years ago knowing he was in for the toughest test of his football-playing life.
The quarterback from Dover-Foxcroft remains resolute in his quest to earn playing time with the Black Bears.
“Playing at this level, it’s definitely a challenge,” the former Foxcroft Academy standout said during UMaine’s annual media day event on Morse Field at Alfond Stadium.
Stroud, who had opportunities to play at the Division III and Division II levels, instead set his sights high.
“I felt like I could play DI, so I wanted to give it a try and I’m really glad I did,” said UMaine’s third-string quarterback. “I love being here, I love the guys, I love the challenge.”
Stroud, who is getting repetitions as the holder on conversion kicks, is one of only 12 Mainers on the 2012 roster.
That group includes starting senior offensive tackle Josh Spearin of Limington, sophomore fullback Carlton Charles of Windham, junior offensive linemen Doug Nash of Turner and Tyler Patterson of Owls Head, and sophomore defensive lineman Matt Pellerin of Turner.
Spearin, a three-year starter who came to Orono as a scholarship player out of Bonny Eagle High School, is happy to represent the state.
“I think everyone who plays from Maine has a lot of pride and they give it that extra effort that they want to really get out on the field and show that their home state has a lot of talent, too,” he said.
Other Mainers include redshirt freshman defensive end Trevor Bates of Westbrook and classmate John McCabe, a linebacker from Winslow, along with incoming freshmen, tight end Max Andrews of Holden, DL Joshua Ingalls of Wells and receiver Dylan Walton of Brunswick.
Former Maine high school performers continue to be a minority on a UMaine roster that includes 88 players.
“We have an expression, ‘build a fence around Maine,’ and we feel like we have, because that’s our starting point,” Black Bears head coach Jack Cosgrove said of recruiting. “It becomes our job as college coaches to really evaluate those guys and not just put them in a program, but put them in the program to succeed.”
UMaine features the state’s only Division I football program. Through the years, as the Black Bears have elevated themselves as a member of the prestigious Colonial Athletic Association, the recruiting base has continued to expand.
That has deepened UMaine’s talent pool, which in turn has made it increasingly difficult for in-state players to make the grade. It also has reduced the amount of scholarship dollars that is available to them.
“It’s good to see the Maine guys getting a shot at the Division I level, too,” said Nash, who starred at Leavitt High School.
A Maine roster replete with players from New York and New Jersey means the local guys realize the magnitude of the challenge they face.
“It gives us a little chip on our shoulder, helps us work a little harder, gives us more motivation,” said Bates, whom Cosgrove said has been among the players to catch the staff’s attention early in training camp.
The Maine players feel a sense of responsibility to make a good showing at UMaine. They realize their efforts will be scrutinized because of their local ties.
“I look at it as an honor to play here, being the only Division I school in the state, so we know that the eyes are on us,” Nash said. “As a kid, we always looked up to guys that played here, so it’s kind of cool to be here now.”
“There’s definitely a lot of pressure,” said Andrews, who wore a protective boot on his right ankle after straining his Achilles’ tendon.
The former John Bapst Memorial High School mainstay hopes to make his family and friends proud as he chases the Division I dream.
“[John Bapst football coach Dan O’Connell] told me that everyone looked up to me and I kind of have the town of Holden, where I’m from, on my back,” he added. “I’m representing myself and the people who look up to me.”
Cosgrove has witnessed the transition from a UMaine team laden with Maine and New England players to one that features mostly athletes from larger metropolitan areas.
He said Maine players who pursue Division I football must possess some important qualities to make an impact for the Black Bears.
“Those who have succeeded here have loved the game, worked hard at the game and have been willing to be disciplined enough to give to the game to get back from the game,” Cosgrove said.
“It can be done,” he added.
Last season, offensive lineman Steve Shea of Corinna and defensive tackle Raibonne Charles of Windham were among the in-state standouts who played key roles for the Bears.
Maine players cherish being part of the program and are determined to make a name for themselves on the field.
“I love being the local guy,” Stroud said. “I love being on the team representing my family, my town. I carry that on my shoulders quite a bit and I’m quite honored to be from Maine.”
“It’s the state of Maine that’s on our chest and being able to represent the state is huge,” Patterson said.
Correction: An earlier version of this story contained an error. John McCabe, not Chris McCabe, is the Black Bears redshirt freshman from Winslow.