ORONO, Maine — Rickey Stevens enjoyed tremendous athletic success at Gates-Chili High School in Rochester, N.Y.
He rushed for a school-record 3,934 yards and 35 touchdowns during his career and capped it as the Monroe County and All-Greater Rochester player of the year as a senior in 2008.
Stevens also was a three-year starting point guard for the basketball team.
Those accomplishments did not produce Division I scholarship offers for Stevens who, in the meantime, has proved he is worthy of one.
Stevens is enjoying a productive senior season at the University of Maine, where the former walk-on is the starting tailback. The 5-foot-8, 198-pounder returns to his home state Saturday when the No. 8 Black Bears seek their sixth straight victory with a 3:30 p.m. Colonial Athletic Association game against the University at Albany.
Despite missing two games with fractured ribs, Stevens is UMaine’s No. 2 rusher with 396 yards on 84 carries, a 4.7-yard average. He also has caught five passes for 62 yards and has scored four touchdowns.
“He’s physical,” said UMaine head coach Jack Cosgrove. “Consistent is a great word for him, and complete, too. He’ll block, he’ll pass-protect, he’ll carry the football, he’ll catch the football.”
Stevens recovered from the rib injury and has averaged 16 carries and 70 yards since his return.
“Being on the sideline missing those two games, watching my brothers go to battle, definitely sparked something in me,” Stevens said.
Things haven’t come easy for Stevens, who started at NAIA Notre Dame College in Cleveland.
“I needed a place where I could go just to get out of the city, out of the area, and go play some football, which is what I love to do,” he said.
He spent two years there, but did not play football in 2010 as he contemplated his future.
In the meantime, former high school teammate Bruce Johnson, an offensive lineman being recruited by UMaine, put him in touch with then-Bears assistant coach Frank Giufre.
“Rickey is the one who really forced the issue and made this happen,” Cosgrove said. “He should get a ton of credit for what he’s accomplished here by going and getting something he wanted and asserting himself.”
Stevens was given a chance to join the team, albeit as a nonscholarship player.
“Ever since then, I’ve been working hard and trying to make a name for myself,” Stevens said. “I’ve definitely been blessed to be in the situation that I’m in.”
Stevens spent his first year (2011-2012) working his way up the ranks. He credited former UMaine tailback Pushaun Brown with showing him the right way to do things.
Nearly three years after playing his last game at Notre Dame College, Stevens ran for 168 yards in UMaine’s 51-7 victory at Bryant. He led the team with 819 rushing yards.
“He’s made the most of his opportunity by putting himself in an environment that was good for him,” Cosgrove said. “He’s a hard worker and he loves the discipline that’s required to be successful.”
This fall, UMaine (8-1 overall, 5-0 CAA) appears headed for unprecedented success. Stevens credits it to unselfishness.
“With this team, it’s all about the team,” Stevens said. “It’s good to get the individual things, but we have a real brotherhood.”
He said the Bears have taken pride in their hard work and preparation, dating back to last summer.
“Everybody’s so committed and together. It’s definitely something that we thought would be really special this year,” Stevens said.
Stevens earned a partial scholarship last year and is receiving a full ride this year. He credits his penchant for hard work and his resolve to his parents, Rickey Sr. and Jackie, and his Christian faith.
“My parents instilled that in my growing up, hard work, perseverance, no matter what,” Stevens said.
“Having faith in Him definitely helps me persevere through tough times,” he added.
Stevens is a mass communications major and hopes to put his engaging personality to use doing some type of sports broadcasting.
“I’m in this place for a reason and it’s definitely something that I’ve been able to fit into and it’s helped me grow as a man, be a better person,” Stevens said. “I’m just blessed to be here.”