“Dad, this is going to be the greatest game ever.”
That’s how University of Maine Quarterback Marcus Wasilewski described this Saturday’s matchup against rival University of New Hampshire, the first home playoff game in the Black Bears’ 121-year history.
Marcus’ father, Mark Wasilewski of Kulpmont, Pa., will make the 10-hour drive to Orono to watch his son play college football for the eighth time since Marcus graduated from Mount Carmel Area High School in 2009.
After a record-setting career as a four-year starter at Mount Carmel, Marcus had four serious offers to play in college, from: Bucknell, Lafayette, Holy Cross and Maine. He narrowed the list to Holy Cross and Maine, but his decision-making stalled there.
“Marcus always wanted to play in college at the highest level that he could,” Mark said. “I said to him at one point: ‘It’s getting kind of late. You need to make a decision pretty soon.’
“His mom [Lisa Covas Wasilewski, who died in August 2009] was still alive at the time. I’ll never forget the night when he decided. He came into our room and said, ‘I made up my mind.’ I said, ‘Yeah?’ He said, ‘I’m going to Maine.’ I knew he would. He always felt at home in Orono for some reason.”
That feeling drew Marcus to Orono.
“Maine brought the family atmosphere in the locker room that was similar to what I had at Mount Carmel,” he said. “It’s a rural area, and it reminded me of home.”
Marcus’ Orono experience was rocky at first. His mother died two weeks after he started attending school. And he was redshirted as a freshman. He was far from home, couldn’t play for real and felt pretty alone.
“Straight up, there was a point where he didn’t know if he wanted to stay,” Mark said. “All he wanted to do was play, but he had to stay on the sideline. He didn’t travel with the team. They went to games on Saturday morning, and they left Marcus at home.”
His mother’s death weighed heavily.
“Most kids would have just given in, come home,” his father said.
The emotions turned around fully a few years later when — on Aug. 23, 2012, which would have been his mother’s 49th birthday — he called home to say he’d been named the starting quarterback.
“I couldn’t even speak to him,” Mark recalled. “It was one of those things.”
This season has been a joy ride for Marcus, leading his team to a 10-2 record and Saturday’s historic playoff game.
“He’s having the time of his life,” his father said. “He doesn’t want it to end. He’s been playing football since he was 8 years old.”
Marcus made a commitment prior to his senior season to do all he could to boost attendance at home football games. Maine’s a hockey college, sure, but he was used to playing before crowds of 4,000-plus in high school.
“He made a comment after the Rhode Island game [week 11] that he’d help the athletic director bring heaters to the stadium for fans if he had to,” Mark said. “He’s almost an alumni now. He cares about the people up there and how hard the kids work.”
Which is why this weekend’s matchup is so big. Not only will Maine fans witness history, but UNH is only three hours away, and one of its largest alumni groups outside of the Granite State is in Portland. A raucous crowd is expected. Even the weather — while cold — appears cooperative.
His father wrote Marcus a letter this week with a reference to his younger brother, Zachary, who led the Mount Carmel Red Tornadoes to a 7-4 record and a district playoff appearance during his senior year. Like Marcus, Zachary wore the No. 7.
“My last line is something like, ‘No matter how or when this season ends, Marcus, you’ve done the No. 7 quarterback family proud back here.’”
BDN assistant sports editor Pete Warner contributed to this report.