ORONO, Maine — It is understood that a senior’s experience and commitment usually mean he is a more accomplished football player than his first-year counterparts.
For that reason, University of Maine head coach Jack Cosgrove and his staff attempt to give the vast majority of their players at least one year of seasoning before inserting them into the mix.
In NCAA Division I play, student-athletes have five years during which to complete four seasons of competition in their sports. The process of holding a player out of action is known as “redshirting.”
“We’re not against playing first-year guys, we just have felt that if they’re not ready, the benefit is [eventually] to have them as a fifth-year senior,” Cosgrove said.
This season, the Black Bears may have a handful of freshmen who see game action during their initial year with the program.
“You do find first-year guys that are further ahead,” Cosgrove said. “You do see it in other sports more often, I think.”
The UMaine “two-deep” chart released on Monday, which shows the projected starters at each position, in addition to their backups, included four freshmen. All are on the offense.
The highly regarded newcomers include quarterback Drew Belcher, tailback
Nigel Beckford and offensive linemen Jamil Demby and Cody Levy.
“That’s a compliment to the recruiting class that we have,” said Cosgrove, who mentioned that Jeremy Salmon contributed as a freshman last year.
“[He] came in and was lights out as a snapper for us when we needed him and has become a very good football player in just his second year,” he added of the converted fullback, who is now a tight end.
As of Wednesday morning, the UMaine coaching staff had not announced its starting quarterback. However, the prospect of Belcher getting the nod is raising some eyebrows.
The 6-foot-3, 220-pounder from Reading, Massachusetts, has been competing with third-year man Dan Collins for the job. Cosgrove lauded not only his size and strong arm, but his ability to grasp the Black Bears’ offensive schemes.
“I think that’s probably been as impressive as the physical skills that he’s brought here,” Cosgrove said.
“He ran the same offense in high school, so there’s a lot of similarities,” added Cosgrove, who explained the terminology is different.
Beckford quickly caught the attention of coaches with his play during training camp.
He is powerful at 5-9, 195 pounds and features good field vision when running with the ball. He is pencilled in behind junior Nigel Jones.
“You see that position being an easier one to step into, obviously, because you’ve got to have the physical tools,” Cosgrove said. “The thing with Beckford that we notice is he’s got some instincts that are pretty special in terms of how he reads his blocking and the cuts that he makes.”
Up front, amidst a group where there are no seniors and only two returning starters, two freshmen are vying for playing time.
Jamil Demby, a 6-5, 300-pound tackle from Vineland, New Jersey, and 6-6, 275-pound tackle Cody Levy of Poughkeepsie, New York, are listed at No. 2 on the depth chart.
Demby was a first-team All-South Jersey and all-conference standout and an Atlantic City Press first-team all-star at Vineland High School, where he graduated Summa Cum Laude.
Levy was a Division II All-State and all-league pick and the All-Section Lineman of the Year. He also was named a Poughkeepsie Journal All-Star at Roy C. Ketcham High School.
While there are no guarantees any or all of the aforementioned freshman will play this season, they are at least in the conversation.
“We’ve got a smaller number of seniors this year (12) and I think there’s some spots that the first-year players have impacted,” Cosgrove said.
The Bears open at home against Norfolk State at 6 p.m. Saturday.