ORONO, Maine — Troy Eastman competed almost every day of his young life growing up in Rahway, N.J., where he often found himself attempting to keep up with his 2 1/2 minute-older twin brother Roy Jr.
“His athletic ability was naturally better than mine,” Troy said. “He was faster than me; he was first to ride a bike. I had my training wheels on longer than him.”
Troy believes his relentless quest to keep up with his brother has been a key component of his football success.
“When it came to ability, if I didn’t try my hardest, he would come out on top,” Troy explained. “That’s why I attribute a lot of my success to him because my competitiveness came second nature.”
On Saturday afternoon, Troy will provide a veteran presence at outside linebacker when the University of Maine takes on 16th-ranked Northwestern of the Big Ten Conference at Evanston, Ill.
“The bigger the stage gets, it’s just more exciting,” Troy said. “It’s a chance to go out and do what you’re here to do — play football and put on a show.”
Troy, a fifth-year senior, has played in 37 consecutive games, including 13 straight starts. He currently ranks fourth on the team with 13 tackles and an interception.
“He has the respect of his teammates, and it was earned through his performance,” said coach Jack Cosgrove. “He has become a solid, dependable football player.”
Last season, the 6-foot-1, 227-pound linebacker registered a career-best 62 tackles and made two interceptions, returning one for a 92-yard touchdown at Towson. It was his first year as a starter.
Upon his arrival in 2012, defensive coordinator Paul Ferraro saw Eastman’s potential.
“You can coach guys to read their keys, and you can prepare them what to expect from a formation or a play selection, but instinct’s something that you don’t coach. I think Troy’s got good instincts,” Ferraro said.
“Being on the back side of the defense a lot, you have to be aware of the play-action fakes and the throw-back plays that teams like to run when they’re having success at the run game,” he explained.
After sitting out 2009 as a redshirt, Troy began contributing on special teams, where he excelled.
“He did some great things for us on special teams,” Cosgrove said. “As a sophomore he was not a starter, but he was going out consistently for the coin toss [as a weekly captain elected by his teammates].”
Troy finished last season by being honored as a captain. He was the Black Bears’ outstanding special teams player after the 2011 season.
“That’s a tribute to his leadership and the kind of direction he was providing to some of our younger players,” Cosgrove said.
“He wants to be one of the voices heard by his teammates because it’s important to him,” he added.
Troy was a standout at Rahway High School, where he played quarterback and safety for coach Gary Mobley. He was an all-state, first-team choice at quarterback as a senior.
Roy Jr. was a split end and linebacker on those teams.
Troy also played on Rahway’s 2006 basketball state championship team, where he focused on rebounding and playing defense.
He received Division I scholarship offers from Maine and Northeastern. He committed to the Black Bears during his recruiting visit, citing the camaraderie and family atmosphere.
He also had a childhood friend on the roster, former Rahway teammate Donte Dennis.
Soon after, the Eastman twins parted ways. Roy attended prep school in Maine at Kents Hill, then played football for one season at Southern Connecticut.
Troy arrived at UMaine projected as a safety but was moved to linebacker. He admitted the speed of the college game, the size of its players and the extensive playbook were challenges.
He found himself falling back on the kind of mentality and work habits he had learned at home.
“My mother’s the most competitive lady I know,” Troy said.
“My father, he just breeds hard work. He taught me that if you’ve got to do something, do it to your best ability. If not, don’t do it at all,” he added.
Troy, majoring in child development and family relations, hopes to work with young people in the future, perhaps in a school setting as a guidance counselor. He also hopes to be able to coach.
Troy will continue to honor a Saturday family tradition started by his maternal grandmother, Connie Cifello, when the Black Bears face off against the Wildcats this weekend.
Cifello, who died in 2011, always took a bottle of Gatorade to each of the Eastman twins, both bearing their first initial. Troy preferred red and Roy Jr. liked orange or yellow.
“Since she passed, my mother does it every game,” Troy said. “Under the bench, I have a red Gatorade with a ‘T’ on it.”