ORONO, Maine — The University of Maine football team has been blessed in recent years with a veteran presence in the middle of its defense.
Last season, senior Donte Dennis set high standards by ranking fourth in the Colonial Athletic Association with 8.6 tackles per game en route to All-CAA first-team honors. He led the team with 108 tackles in 2010.
In 2011, with Dennis injured, senior Vinson Givans racked up 94 tackles to propel the Black Bears defense.
Not since 2009, when Dennis was a sophomore, has UMaine had an underclassman in the middle.
Christophe Mulumba forms part of the Bears’ youthful 1-2 punch at linebacker this season along with sophomore Cabrinni Goncalves. The redshirt freshman is averaging 8.3 tackles per game and has 1.5 sacks in just three games.
On Monday, the 6-foot-1, 235-pounder from Montreal was recognized as the CAA Rookie of the Week after posting a career-best 12 tackles in UMaine’s 35-22 win over Bryant.
“He’s further ahead than we expected him to be, simply because of sustaining the [knee] injury last year and missing, really, that year,” said Black Bears head coach Jack Cosgrove.
Mulumba made his presence felt with a strong work ethic during the offseason, although when training camp opened last month, he was No. 2 on the depth chart at the “Mike,” or middle, linebacker position.
“He just kept showing up and kept getting better each and every day and was one of those pleasant surprises that you get,” Cosgrove said.
Everything changed early during preseason when sophomore defensive end Mike Kozlakowski suffered a season-ending torn biceps in his left arm. With Mulumba having demonstrated promise, Cosgrove and the coaching staff reversed its decision to put sophomore Trevor Bates of Westbrook at middle linebacker and moved him back to end.
“He allowed us to do some things with our defense that gave us greater multiplicity on that side of the ball because of his growth,” Cosgrove said. “Certainly, we’re excited about him and his future.”
Wasilewski shines again
UMaine quarterback Marcus Wasilewski had another outstanding day in UMaine’s win over Bryant at Alfond Stadium.
The senior from Kulpmont, Pa., completed 23 of 32 passes good for 263 yards and four touchdowns without an interception. Wasilewski also continued his effective running, carrying 13 times for 64 yards, including a 34-yard scramble for a score.
“The last two weeks he’s played very well for the most part, moved the chains, played as a quarterback should, as a manager of the game and a decision-maker,” Cosgrove said.
That doesn’t mean the coaching staff is willing to settle for such a performance. Cosgrove said Wasilewski missed on some things against the Bulldogs.
“Because of who he is and what he can do, and we know what he can do, when he makes even the slightest mistake … that could be a critical mistake,” Cosgrove said. “He probably got away with a couple of them Saturday.”
Part of the reason for the critique is the challenge that awaits UMaine on Saturday — a meeting with 16th-ranked Northwestern of the Big Ten in Evanston, Ill.
“We’re going to need almost a flawless performance from him this week if we’re going to have success,” Cosgrove said.
Not so special teams
UMaine did not appear to be nearly as sharp Saturday on special teams, which had been a key component of the Black Bears’ first two victories.
Junior punter Jeff Ondish and that unit had a punt blocked out of the end zone for a safety early in the second quarter.
“Our punter was slow [getting the ball off] … and we didn’t execute the way we need to in some areas of our kick coverage,” Cosgrove said. “We need to get better there.”
Hockney ties MMA record
It didn’t take Justin Hockney long to put his name in the Maine Maritime Academy football record books.
The freshman from South Berwick converted all seven of his extra-point kicks in the Mariners’ season-opening 55-49 loss to Anna Maria College at Ritchie Field.
The performance equalled the feat accomplished by Michael Brennan at Coast Guard on Oct. 31, 2009.
Hockney is a 6-foot-1, 165-pound product of Marshwood High School in Eliot who was making his collegiate debut for coach Chris McKenney’s Mariners. He also handled kickoffs for MMA.
Hockney was a three-year member of the Hawks’ varsity soccer team before joining the football squad last fall. He helped Marshwood reach the Class B state championship game, where it lost to Mt. Blue of Farmington.
He also participated in the Maine Shrine Lobster Bowl Classic all-star football game earlier this summer.