ORONO, Maine — Doug Alston has enjoyed a solid career at the University of Maine.
The fifth-year senior has been in the Black Bears’ defensive line for four seasons.
As Alston prepares for Saturday’s 2 p.m. Colonial Athletic Association contest against Georgia State — his last home game in a UMaine uniform — he reflects on his career with fondness.
When asked what was the highlight of his five seasons, the answer had nothing to do with any particular play or game.
“As much as I truly love football and playing in games, I think it’s the offseason,” said the 6-foot-3, 232-pounder from East Orange, N.J.
“That’s my highlight, just because you get to bond with your teammates,” said Alston, who has a younger sister. “I have no brothers. As I came here and got closer to everybody, I really consider these guys my brothers. Working hard with them, that’s my highlight.”
As much as Alston enjoys the camaraderie of playing for the Black Bears, he has made significant contributions on the field. He has made 16 tackles this season, including 1.5 quarterback sacks and an interception.
He has done so despite dealing with nagging and painful back spasms that have cut back on his practice and game time.
“Doug has actually been really playing the last couple years hurt,” said UMaine coach Jack Cosgrove. “He’s been battling back spasms and we’ve had to be very cautious in terms of the volume of reps. He’s kind of warriored through it.”
Alston also has had some doubters ever since he was moved from linebacker to defensive end during his days at Paterson (N.J.) Catholic High School.
“Once they saw me play they understood, I got respect, and it resulted in a scholarship at the University of Maine,” Alston said.
He was his league’s defensive player of the year as a senior, and said he had a handful of scholarship offers. He narrowed his list to three schools.
His campus visit to UMaine was what sold him on the program.
“When I came up here it was genuine, everybody was from the heart,” Alston said.
He had some work to do upon his arrival at UMaine in 2008. At the time, he weighed only about 205 pounds.
He earned a reputation as a hard worker on the field and was named UMaine’s Scout Team Defensive Player of the Year. In the meantime, he worked on getting stronger.
“Coach Nich [strength and conditioning coach Dan Nichol], he don’t play games,” Alston said. “He’s got my back in that weight room. You don’t have a choice but to work hard when you’re around him.”
Alston credits his parents, Douglas and Keisha, with instilling in him a drive to work hard and a will to succeed.
“They busted their butt, coming home late from work and going right to sleep,” he explained. “They were making sure me and my sister had whatever we needed.”
Though his progress has been slowed by his injuries, Alston is nonetheless a tough matchup for opposing linemen.
“They’re a little bigger, but they’re not tougher,” he said, admitting he arrived purely as a pass-rusher, but had to learn run-contain responsibilities.
“The pass rush has been really the thing that most stands out about him,” Cosgrove said. “Doug plays very passionately.”
Alston credited two former teammates, Jovan Belcher — now with the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs — and Jordan Stevens, who is a defensive assistant at UMaine, for their help.
Alston judges his performance more on how he fits into the total defensive scheme.
“Every game that we go out, I’m in the front, so [my teammates] get to see me work,” Alston said. “I want my brothers to know that I’m here working for you.”
He is majoring in child development and family relations, which should pave the way for him to pursue his goals after football is over. He fondly remembers his interactions with some people who showed up at recreation programs and shared knowledge and advice.
“I just want to work with kids,” Alston said.
Alston admits this season has been a difficult one for him and the Black Bears, who have a 3-6 record.
Even so, he takes satisfaction in how the team has handled things.
“I am proud of the approach we took because we could have easily lost a couple games and said, ‘Let’s pack it up, it’s over,’” Alston said. “Each week we just continued to fight. We wanted to be out there and compete.”
He marvels at the attitude and effort shown by some of the younger players.
“They have had high energy, a lot of enthusiasm,” Alston said. “It inspired me to get me excited.”
Among the remaining goals for UMaine is to get the first win of the season at Alfond Stadium for the seniors.
“You don’t even realize how bad I really want this one. So do my teammates,” he said. “When I think about it, it gets me speechless. It’s my last home game, ever.”