ORONO, Maine — Garret Williamson had never played center prior to his arrival at the University of Maine.
As a freshman in 2008, he worked out exclusively at guard and tackle for the Black Bears.
At season’s end, UMaine needed to find someone to replace All-American Ryan Canary in the middle of the offensive line. Despite his lack of experience, Williamson volunteered.
“Garret came up to me and said he thought he could snap the football, so we put him in there and never looked back,” former offensive line coach Frank Giufre said at the time.
Following in the sizable footsteps of Canary, and Ben Lazarski before him, Williamson has not disappointed.
Saturday afternoon, for the 41st time in 42 career games, the young man from Flemington, N.J., will be snapping the football for the Black Bears..
“You’re very fortunate to have a guy with those talents to handle the responsibilities of playing center, both mentally and physically,” said UMaine head coach Jack Cosgrove.
Williamson is among three seniors up front who will try to help the Bears win their first home game of the season when they take on No. 9 James Madison in a 3:30 p.m. game at Alfond Stadium on Saturday.
It has been business as usual for the big boys up front as UMaine (3-5, 2-3 CAA) tries to keep its momentum going after a victory at William & Mary.
“We’ve been having fun out there,” Williamson said. “We’ve been going to work every day, trying to get better every week, and I think we have.”
Williamson’s experience and leadership have been instrumental in the development of the offense and, in particular, junior quarterback Marcus Wasilewski, who has been gaining confidence every game.
At this point, the 6-foot-3-inch, 275-pound Williamson has learned to adjust and maintain his poise in virtually any situation.
“He hasn’t been flashy or any of that stuff,” Cosgrove said. “He’s a very steady, consistent football player for us.”
Williamson was a two-way lineman at Hunterdon Central High School, where he was a first-team, all-state selection. He also played basketball and lacrosse, but chased his dream in football.
His father, Jack, was a defensive tackle at North Carolina State in the ‘60s.
“He exposed me to all the sports, but I’ve always loved football the most, ever since I was a kid,” Williamson said.
Williamson enjoys the competition of taking on defensive linemen and making sure the ball gets securely into Wasilewski’s hands.
But that’s only part of what makes playing on the offensive line so rewarding.
“The biggest thing is the camaraderie,” Williamson said. “I can count on those guys for anything, whether it’s inside football or outside of football. The camaraderie is like no other unit on the team.”
As has historically been the case, offensive linemen toil in relative obscurity while some of their teammates get the headlines by scoring touchdowns.
Williamson said the offensive line group derives its satisfaction from those very same successes enjoyed by their teammates.
“The fun of it is, the offense relies on the offensive line to make things happen,” he explained. “We like knowing that we protected the quarterback so he could make the big play, or we opened up the hole for the running back to get some good yardage. We like putting in the work every play to see those results happen.”
As the center, Williamson serves as the conduit for offensive line calls from left tackle over to right tackle. His job is first to make sure that everyone knows how the play should be blocked, based on the defensive alignment.
His other duty is to safely transfer the ball to Wasilewski. That part, initially, took some work.
“It’s one thing to put your hand on the ground and block,” Williamson said. “It’s another thing to learn how to hold the ball, snap it and block.”
Williamson credits his durability to a year-round commitment to strength and conditioning, plus a little bit of luck.
On Sept. 22 against Albany, he suffered an ankle injury that kept him out of the next game. It was the first time he had missed a game because of injury since he tore a ligament in his left knee as a high school freshman.
He credited his success to the help and support of his parents, Jack and Catherine, along with the knowledge imparted by his coaches as he progressed through the ranks.
Two weeks from Saturday, Williamson and his fellow seniors will play their final college football game. He plans to continue training during the winter, hoping to gain a look from a National Football League team.
Moreover, he plans to continue competing even after he stops playing.
A fifth-year player who redshirted in his freshman year, Williamson graduated in May with a degree in business administration with a concentration in finance.
“I want to get into [stock] trading,” he explained. “It is a very competitive industry, and I like that competition.”