ORONO, Maine — Matt Pellerin and David Toriola came to the University of Maine from other colleges. This fall, they will be among the players counted upon to fill key spots in the middle of the Black Bears’ defensive line.
UMaine is working to shore up its defensive tackle and noseguard positions heading into the 2012 season, which begins two weeks from Saturday at Boston College.
The graduation of four-year starters Raibonne Charles and Kevin Phanor and classmate Ryan Nani has left the Bears thin on experience.
“We’re obviously concerned with our inexperience there right from the get-go,” said UMaine head coach Jack Cosgrove. “It takes a special guy to play inside and you’ve got to have, more than any other spot on the team, a rotation.”
Pellerin, a native of Turner, is a transfer from Division III Maine Maritime Academy in Castine. Toriola is a graduate of Marist College who is taking advantage of his final year of eligibility as a graduate student.
They are joined at the tackle spots by fifth-year senior Kris Enslen and sophomores Devin Clark and Matt Wilson.
Toriola, 6-foot-3, 280 pounds, chose UMaine to close out his football career.
“There’s something about Maine that resonates with me,” said Toriola, who earned a B.S. in Business (Marketing) from Marist. “The brotherhood was there and the coaches obviously push the players to get the best out of them.”
Pellerin (6-0, 295) is set to make his Division I debut after sitting out last year due to NCAA transfer rules. He is anxious to get on the field.
“We came into camp knowing that there were shoes to be filled, so we’ve really been gearing up and preparing ourselves for the season,” said Pellerin, a former Leavitt High standout. “It made me work that much harder during the offseason.”
Enslen (6-4, 255) sat out all of 2011 after having surgery on his bothersome left knee. He played 10 games at defensive end during 2010.
Clark (6-3, 250) also has been slowed by a knee injury sustained during the spring of 2011 that kept him out of action last fall. Wilson (6-3, 270) has been making significant strides.
“We don’t have the experience of CAA (Colonial Athletic Association) game reps, but I think we do have some athletes that really allow us to feel better about the position,” he said.
Defensive line coach Dennis Dottin-Carter said the experience of the graduated players, including their collective leadership and confidence, is hard to replace. However, he believes this year’s crew has plenty of potential.
“We’ve got a great talent pool to choose from and there’s a lot of competition going on between those guys and it’s only making us better,” Dottin-Carter said.
Cosgrove stressed the need to have three or four players who can contribute in the middle to help keep them fresh and healthy.
The tackles are flanked with some talent and experience in All-CAA second-team defensive end Mike Cole and senior Doug Alston, along with Erwin Roach, and promising youngsters Mike Kozlakowski and Trevor Bates of Westbrook.
For the inside players, the key is learning their responsibilities and gaining game experience.
“The CAA is a tough league,” Dottin-Carter said. “There’s no doubt these guys can play, we’re just going to have to find out early [what they can do].”
Wasilewski takes the helm
Junior Marcus Wasilewski was the right man to take over the starting quarterback job. For that reason, the UMaine staff subtly made the decision Thursday to give him the reins of the offense.
“Evaluation is evaluation. When you know it’s right, it happens,” Cosgrove said Friday afternoon.
“(Quarterbacks) coach (Kevin) Bourgoin had conversations with both guys, but there wasn’t a lot of fanfare,” he added. “We didn’t think that was necessary.”
Wasilewski, who had been competing against classmate John Ebeling, has demonstrated his readiness through his performance since the departure of seniors Warren Smith and Chris Treister.
“Marcus has earned the spot, make no mistake about that, through his play,” said Cosgrove, who has seen a change in Wasilewski even since the decision was made.
“He’s embraced it, been more demanding of himself,” Cosgrove said. “He’s worked on all the parts that you need, his throwing mechanics, working with the running backs, his command of the line of scrimmage, his leadership skills and his mastering of the signaling system.”
Ebeling now will concentrate on his other roles, which include playing slot receiver, long snapper for punts and special teams.
“John’s a key guy on special teams for us, so that identity’s been established there for him,” Cosgrove said. “He can help us someplace else and that makes us a better team.”
The question now is, who is the backup quarterback going to be?
Ebeling spent all of Friday afternoon’s practice working as a receiver and snapper. Freshman Dan Collins took a few reps with the second string, as did sophomore Ryan Stroud of Dover-Foxcroft.
With three options for Wasilewski’s backup, Cosgrove isn’t rushing to anoint a No. 2 man.
“That’s not a decision that we’re worrying about right now,” he said. “We’re going to get work for Collins and Stroud and let them get better.”