ORONO, Maine — Jeff Gakos has been a productive football player at the University of Maine.
This marks his third season as a starter on the offensive line, a group which has been instrumental in paving the way for the 14th-ranked Black Bears’ 5-1 start.
Gakos has taken his game to another level as a senior.
“He’s really stepped up and it’s really good to see,” said UMaine head coach Jack Cosgrove.
“You obviously need your most experienced guy to be performing at a high level,” he added.
Gakos has not asserted himself by taking a lofty position among the linemen. Instead, he is working quietly behind the scenes, trying to make sure the group is working hard — together.
“I’m more excited about our whole unit,” Gakos said. “We’ve definitely been playing well.”
This fall has represented a new beginning of sorts for Gakos, a 6-foot-4, 298-pound guard from Basking Ridge, N.J.
He spent the previous two seasons working alongside a highly-touted trio that included All-American and All-Colonial Athletic Association first-team choice Chris Howley, All-CAA pick Chris Spearin of Limington and Garet Williamson.
Gakos was an important piece of the puzzle, but was somewhat overshadowed by some of his linemates. That dynamic had allowed him to blend in with the group and do just enough to get the job done.
With the seniors gone, Gakos has embraced the opportunity to play a more impactful role.
“The biggest improvement by him is simply his attitude,” said UMaine offensive line coach Jeff Ambrosie. “He’s much more invested this year. He cares a lot about the team and it shows.”
As one of only two returning full-time starters, Gakos has tried to be more consistent and calm. He realizes the tone he sets can help the less-experienced linemen grow and improve.
He lines up between senior left tackle Tyler Patterson of Owls Head and sophomore center Bruce Johnson. As they continue to settle in as starters, Gakos can put his experience to work.
“I think he’s got to be the guy who demonstrates he knows what he’s doing and be kind of the point person for the group,” said Cosgrove, who praised Gakos’ ability to focus on the next play and not dwell on what happened previously.
The offensive line, which also includes senior tackle Joe Hook and sophomore guard Dan Carriker, has helped UMaine rank third in CAA total offense with 455.2 yards per game.
The Black Bears rank second in passing (261.5 ypg), sixth in rushing (193.7 ypg) and third in scoring with a healthy 32.2 points per contest. UMaine also has allowed only six sacks.
Gakos said the offensive line’s success is built upon its chemistry on and off the field.
“I like the camaraderie with the whole offensive line,” he said. “If the offensive line has a good game, then the entire offense usually has a good game.”
As much as he continues to refine his physical skills, it is the mental side of the game where he has made the greatest strides.
“It’s definitely helped to have composure on the sidelines,” he said. “I’m older now and I don’t really dwell on my mistakes as much as I used to.”
Gakos said he likes to deliver a brief pregame speech to all the offensive linemen, but generally tries to maintain a low profile in terms of his role as a senior leader on the team.
“He’s not a natural-born leader, but I think that he understands the guys are following him, so he has to at least present a picture that’s a positive one,” Ambrosie said. “He’s done a good job with that.”
Gakos is majoring in child development and family relations and is considering becoming a guidance counselor.
UMaine returns to action Oct. 19 with a 12:30 p.m. homecoming game against William & Mary at Alfond Stadium.