ORONO, Maine — Earning a spot in the National Football League is a longshot for the majority of college players.
That hasn’t stopped the University of Maine from sending several players to the NFL ranks in recent years.
Wednesday morning, 11 former Black Bears received their chance to show off their strength, agility and skills in the hope of getting a look from an NFL team.
Offensive linemen Josh Spearin of Limington and Chris Howley, along with linebacker Donte Dennis, were among the UMaine standouts who went through the standard battery of tests for New England Patriots scouting assistant Frank Ross.
“It was fun. This is an exciting time,” Dennis said after “pro day” wrapped up inside the Mahaney Dome. “I’m never going to do this again. This is my only shot, my pro day, so that’s all I kept thinking in my head.”
Ross was the only scout in attendance after five teams sent representatives last year.
With 30 teammates and a handful of coaches and staff members looking on, the players ran the 40-yard dash, the short shuttle, the cone drill and a 60-yard shuttle. They also performed the bench press, the vertical leap and the standing broad jump.
The exact same tests are performed by NFL scouts during their combine events for top-level prospects.
Spearin, a former star at Bonny Eagle High School in Standish, viewed it as a privilege to be able to perform at pro day.
“You really want to try and prove something to yourself and get those [test] numbers as high as you can,” said the 6-foot-4-inch, 290-pounder.
“This is just a little bit of extra good stuff that’s happening, but I never really thought, coming out of high school, that this would ever be a possibility.”
Other former UMaine players who took part were Doug Alston, Darlos James, Maurice McDonald, Troy Russell, Garret Williamson, Sam Shipley, David Toriola and Pushaun Brown, who last played in 2011.
UMaine head coach Jack Cosgrove attended the sessions, providing a presence to support his players while maintaining a low profile and staying in the background.
Although many of the results were not made available, there were some notable performances.
Howley dominated the bench press, churning out 34 repetitions at 225 pounds. At 6-3, 299 pounds, he also uncorked a vertical jump of 31 inches.
Howley tried to maintain a relaxed approach to the testing.
“I’m just happy to be able to do it, coming out here and maybe get another shot down the road to play football, have fun,” Howley said.
He, Dennis and Williamson spent the past two months training at the Test Football Academy in New Jersey.
“We’ve been working six days a week trying to get better,” he said, adding they also received advice about how to approach pro day from a psychological standpoint.
“If you get nervous and don’t have fun, it can mess with your head,” Howley said. “If you come in here and have fun, it doesn’t matter. You do the best you can do, see what happens.”
The trio will return to New Jersey on March 29, when they will participate in another pro day.
Brown, a running back who attended rookie camp with the New York Jets last summer, demonstrated his physical maturity. He posted vertical leaps of 36 and 38 inches, went 9 feet, 10 inches in the broad jump, and ran two 40s in the 4.5-second range.
Dennis (6-0, 220) also threw up some solid numbers, including 18 reps in the bench press, 35 inches in the vertical and a broad jump of 10-8.
“I feel like I had a good workout today, got some good work in,” he said. “I’ll put it all out there today, so we’ll see what happens.”
Williamson (6-3, 245) made significant changes in an effort to get some looks. He has lost 30 pounds in an attempt to become a long-snapper for punts.
“I’ve been working down in Jersey with a couple guys who were long-snappers in the NFL,” he said. “Next week I’ve got a big performance in front of a lot of scouts down at the place I trained at in Jersey.”
While several of the players have either finished school or are not taking classes to concentrate on their conditioning, Spearin has been trying to balance his workouts with academics as he completes his undergraduate course work in environmental science.
“It’s been very hectic,” he admitted. “I’m taking two capstones and my second semester of chemistry, which is definitely a weak point of mine, so it’s been a struggle.”
UMaine’s active NFL players include Mike DeVito of Kansas City, Montell Owens (Jacksonville), Matt Mulligan of Enfield (St. Louis), Jerron McMillian (Green Bay), Derek Buttles (Buffalo, practice squad) and Lofa Tatupu (Atlanta).
Spearin, who said he isn’t as big or strong in the upper body as some prospects, hopes to make up for that with powerful legs, crisp technique and toughness. He has maintained a good sense of perspective about embracing the challenges of chasing his NFL dream while taking care of business in the classroom.
“I’m excited to find out what the next step is,” he explained. “If I get in the NFL, great, that’s awesome. If I don’t, I’ve got the rest of my life to look forward to, a great career, a great family.”