ORONO, Maine — John Ebeling is an outstanding all-around athlete.
He was a three-sport star at Mahwah (N.J.) High School, where he played football and basketball and competed in track and field.
At the University of Maine, the senior isn’t playing much quarterback, the position for which he was recruited, but he remains a key contributor.
The 6-foot-4, 205-pound Ebeling will line up as a receiver and long-snapper — and maybe at quarterback — on Saturday when the 23rd-ranked Black Bears face No. 24 Delaware in a Colonial Athletic Association clash of 4-1 teams at Alfond Stadium.
“John has really been a very impressive young man for us over the course of the last year,” said UMaine head coach Jack Cosgrove.
“John was a guy that was too talented to be standing next to us coaches on the sideline on Saturday,” he added.
Ebeling has emerged as a dependable slot receiver after making the full-time switch from quarterback last spring. He is tied for second on the team with 10 catches for 204 yards and a touchdown.
“This was my first offseason where I could focus on being the No. 1 slot guy,” said Ebeling, who was the backup quarterback last season after Marcus Wasilewski won the job in training camp.
“I was working on all my receiver skills and it definitely feels a little more natural to me this year,” said Ebeling, who caught 10 passes last season.
He had cracked the lineup in 2011 as the long snapper on punts, then was pressed into service as a receiver because of injuries.
“He may be the skinniest punt snapper in college football,” Cosgrove joked, noting Ebeling’s proficiency in that role.
Ebeling made a touchdown catch in the Bears’ 2011 NCAA Football Championship Subdivision first-round playoff victory at Appalachian State and added another in a quarterfinal loss at Georgia Southern.
Before committing to UMaine, Ebeling had a scholarship offer from Akron University, a Football Bowl Subdivision program. He hasn’t let his ego prevent him from maximizing his football potential, following the lead of former UMaine QB-turned-receiver Mike Brusko.
“When he made the change it was for the best of the team,” Ebeling said. “That was my mentality going into it, that I want to contribute to the team in any way possible.”
Ebeling continues to make the best of his opportunities.
“He’s a playmaker,” said offensive coordinator Kevin Bourgoin. “I wish we had made the decision a little bit quicker in regard to him playing another position, because he’s really become a good football player for us.”
When he lines up at receiver, Ebeling has the added advantage of knowing the offense inside and out because of his experience at quarterback.
“He’s got a sense of calm. He’s able to get guys lined up and I constantly see him communicating,” Bourgoin said. “It’s almost like having two quarterbacks on the field.”
Knowing what everybody else is supposed to be doing helps Ebeling recognize how to attack opposing defenses.
“It definitely gives me a better understanding of what I try to do each play for our offense to be successful,” he said.
As late as his junior year in high school, Ebeling wasn’t sure what sport he would play in college. He was a proficient quarterback, but also was an all-league point guard in basketball and a good high jumper.
He accomplished that despite missing his sophomore year in all sports after having surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus in his left knee.
“My senior year I was a little better running, but if you told me I’d be playing receiver and long-snapping at Maine, I never would have believed it,” he said.
Ebeling then tore the meniscus in his other knee playing basketball as a freshman at UMaine.
He is the product of a strong athletic tradition. His father Ken played football at Colgate and spent time in NFL camps, while his oldest brother Ken was a wide receiver at Yale.
Ebeling also has challenged himself in the classroom. He is majoring in finance and added a concentration in entrepreneurship that he will complete in December.
In the meantime, he and his teammates have other titles to pursue.
“I think we’ve had a good mentality going through each week of practice, trying to get better from the week beforehand and that’s just leading to more wins,” Ebeling said.