ORONO, Maine — Maurice McDonald is a staunch believer that everything happens for a reason.
It’s something he learned from his late grandmother, Gloria McDonald, who taught him to be patient and to make the best out of any situation, no matter how difficult.
When the University of Buffalo withdrew a scholarship offer during his senior year of high school, McDonald was forced to weigh other options. That process led him to the University of Maine.
The 6-foot, 180-pound senior from Paterson, N.J., is the Black Bears’ leading receiver again this season. The slippery wide receiver has racked up 22 receptions good for 180 yards in the first three games.
McDonald will be a key target Saturday at 3:30 p.m. when UMaine plays its Colonial Athletic Association opener against Villanova at Alfond Stadium.
“I just want to make sure that I do, in fact, stay consistent and that whatever my team needs me to do I can do — the best I possibly can,” said McDonald.
McDonald enjoyed a stellar season in 2011, earning All-CAA first-team accolades when he caught 58 passes for 591 yards and five touchdowns.
“Last season for him was a breakout year,” said UMaine head coach Jack Cosgrove. “He’s a great route-runner and has a great set of hands.”
McDonald missed the final two games of 2011, including two playoff contests, after suffering a broken right foot against Towson. The experience only intensified his resolve.
“I was in every meeting, film sessions, and I would be in the locker room and watch film with Art [Williams] and Damarr [Aultman] and make sure that they were on the same page,” McDonald said.
There were challenges for him and the Bears coming into 2012. There was turnover in the coaching staff, including his third wide receivers coach in four seasons, and he is working with a new starting quarterback in Marcus Wasilewski.
Based on the results achieved after working out with the team in Orono before the 2011 season, McDonald was eager to get back to work this past summer.
“We’ve made progress and I feel like we’re still growing as a combination,” he said of working with Wasilewski, “and he also has a whole bunch of other weapons.”
McDonald believes his success has been derived through a relentless pursuit of improvement. He wound up being the elder statesmen among the receivers last season with senior tight ends Derek Buttles and Jeff Falvey sidelined by knee injuries.
“I started to notice it when in practice I would go hard and the receivers behind me would go hard,” McDonald said. “I wasn’t looking to take a leadership role. I was looking more to take care of what I needed to take care of.”
Although he doesn’t possess breakaway speed, McDonald is able to use his football knowledge and other skills to be a productive pass-catcher.
“I feel like to move the chains, to keep the defense off the field, to keep the momentum of your offense going, you need first downs,” he said. “I think my knowledge of situations has helped me. To know when it’s second-and-five, we need nothing less than five yards.”
He said his route-running also has improved dramatically, thanks to the efforts of his coaches and teammates.
“He’s very meticulous in that regard,” Cosgrove said of McDonald’s execution. “He takes a lot of pride in his work. He understands coverages as well as anybody in our group.”
McDonald also is returning punts for the Black Bears and will try to recover this Saturday from a muffed punt that led to an Albany touchdown last week.
As a senior at Paterson Catholic High School, McDonald wanted to accept a scholarship offer from Buffalo. His grandmother suggested he wait and consider all his options.
Before long, Buffalo had pulled its offer and its head coach wound up leaving the program.
“I’d probably still be in a compromised position [if I had signed],” McDonald said. “For that, I thank my grandmother.”
Shortly thereafter, Gloria McDonald wound up in the hospital. She had been responsible for raising Maurice, known to his friends as “Mo.”
After Buffalo backed off, UMaine recruited McDonald. The coaches were aware of his grandmother’s illness and its effect on him.
“I remember coach [Joe] Rossi and coach Cos [Cosgrove] sending me handwritten letters and showing me that they really cared,” McDonald said.
That led him to take a closer look at UMaine. He eventually accepted its scholarship offer.
“I’ve never felt like I made a better decision,” he said.
“I knew my grandmother couldn’t afford for me to go to college. I needed a scholarship. I know that everything happens for a reason.”
About a month later, Gloria McDonald died.
He also appreciates the love and support provided by his paternal grandfather, Michael McDonald, and his aunt Monique McDonald.
McDonald has taken advantage of his opportunity at UMaine, both on and off the field.
“As a person, I learned to grow up, to mature, to take on responsibility, to own up to my mistakes,” said McDonald, who is majoring in journalism.
He will continue trying to set high standards as the leader of UMaine’s receiver corps.
“He’s a smart football player, a smart and well-rounded young man,” Cosgrove said.
Gloria McDonald would be proud.