ORONO, Maine — When Marcus Wasilewski leads the University of Maine football team onto the field against Boston College on Saturday, it will be a proud moment for the junior quarterback.
It has been an exercise in patience and resolve for the former Mount Carmel (Pa.) High School standout, who shoulders the hopes of not only himself and his teammates, but his family and an entire community.
“It’s really exciting,” said the 6-foot-1, 215-pounder from Kulpmont, a rural town of 3,000 located an hour south of Scranton, Pa. “This is why I wanted to play college football: I wanted to be on the big stage. I wanted to be the guy to go out and control offenses and win football games.”
It has been four years since Wasilewski (pronounced Wash-uh-LES-key) led Mount Carmel to a 13-1 record and a district title. He was a four-year starter for the Red Tornadoes.
That’s no small feat in a town where sports rule and football is king. Prior to the 2011 season, Mount Carmel was the fifth-winningest high school football program in the country.
“It means a lot in our town,” Wasilewski said. “People look forward to the season. Local businesses take pride in putting their name on it and being sponsors. It brings our town together.”
According to MaxPreps.com, Mount Carmel had compiled a 793-288-57 record through 2010.
“Make no mistake about the fact that he’s from an area where football is important, big-time,” said UMaine head coach Jack Cosgrove. “It’s part of the culture there.”
Wasilewski, who also played basketball and baseball, thrived amid considerable pressure and expectations.
His father, Mark, a native of Kulpmont, was a baseball and basketball standout at Mount Carmel. His late mother, Lisa, who grew up in Mount Carmel, excelled in softball, basketball and track and field.
Wasilewski’s uncle, Frank Bolick, is a former major league ballplayer.
“I think the camaraderie around football in my town, it gave me a different love for the game,” said Wasilewski, whose brother Zachary is a junior at Mount Carmel, where he is the starting quarterback.
“He’s a great kid and I’m really proud of him for what he’s gone through and what he’s doing,” Wasilewski said.
Wasilewski is one of two former Mount Carmel QBs in Saturday’s game, as 28-year-old Dave Shinskie, who first pursued a pro baseball career, is a backup for the Eagles.
Wasilewski chose UMaine over Holy Cross and was recruited by a handful of Patriot League schools. He warmed to the family atmosphere and rural feel at UMaine.
He was at the top of UMaine’s recruiting list, but Cosgrove admitted signing Wasilewski felt like a coup.
“We were a little surprised we got him,” he said.
Wasilewski’s arrival at UMaine in 2009 coincided with a personal tragedy. Two weeks into training camp, his mother lost a 3½-year battle with cancer.
He leaned on his family and friends for support.
“If it was going to happen, I’m glad it happened with those kind of people back home,” said Wasilewski. “And the guys in the locker room here were a major influence.”
He redshirted his first season, then appeared in two games in 2010. He completed a fake-punt pass against James Madison.
Last fall, he played in five games and had another completion on a fake punt. He also signaled in offensive plays from the sideline.
Wasilewski watched as former UMaine backup QB Chris Treister was twice beaten out for the starting job but never backed down.
“That was definitely a lesson I took from Chris, just keep battling, no matter how tough things get, and good things will happen,” Wasilewski said.
It reinforced the philosophy espoused at Mount Carmel by assistant coach Paul Babinski. His “never give in and never give up” is the mantra of the Red Tornadoes.
Wasilewski’s persistence paid off, as on Aug. 23 he was named UMaine’s starting quarterback.
“Three years can be a long time, but three years can be the right time, too,” Cosgrove said.
Wasilewski credited former teammates Warren Smith and Treister with showing him how to handle the position. He praised Smith for his commitment to preparation and Treister for his determination.
Now that he has cracked the lineup, the strong-armed Wasilewski must perform on the field.
“I definitely have a lot to prove,” he said, pointing to the need to be well-rounded in all facets.
There is one dynamic about which he is not concerned.
“Ever since [high school], any sport I’ve played, I’ve assumed a leadership role,” Wasilewski said. “I expect it of myself and I think the guys expect it from me.”
Saturday’s game represents a triumph for Wasilewski, whose father, brother and paternal grandparents will be among the UMaine fans at Alumni Stadium.
As before every game, he will read Dale Wimbrow’s poem called, “The Guy in the Glass,” which provides him with motivation and perspective.
Around his neck, he’ll wear a gold cross given to him by his mother and a “No. 7” pendant signifying his uniform number. His mother’s name is written on his cleat.
“One of the last things she said to me was, ‘Never give up, no matter what you do,’” Wasilewski said. “I live by that every single day.”