ORONO, Maine — Dan Collins’ physical tools as a quarterback have never been in question. He possesses a strong throwing arm and is a good runner.
Yet the complexities of playing quarterback at the Division I level are considerable. To excel, he must acquire many other skills, some of them intangible.
Collins begins his football education in earnest Saturday night, when he makes his debut as the starting quarterback for the University of Maine.
The redshirt sophomore from Williamstown, New Jersey, will direct the offense during the Black Bears’ 6 p.m. season opener against Norfolk State on Morse Field at Alfond Stadium.
“We’re all excited for this game and prepared and ready to go,” said Collins, who Thursday evening was named UMaine’s starting quarterback by head coach Jack Cosgrove.
Collins, the only returning quarterback with any game experience, had been competing for the job with freshman Drew Belcher.
“I trust the coaches to make the best decision,” the 6-foot-3, 205-pound Collins said. “I love competition.”
As preseason practices transitioned into game week, the coaching staff waited patiently as Collins emerged as the definitive choice.
“I would just say that I didn’t have a great start to camp,” Collins said. “That’s what frustrated me at the beginning, but all things end well and I’m ready to go for Saturday.”
Associate head coach and offensive coordinator Kevin Bourgoin explained Collins, who was the third-string quarterback a year ago, is adjusting to the speed of the game as he gains experience.
“What he’s seeing is slowing down for him,” Bourgoin said. “And because of that, he’s starting to see some things, play with a little more composure, be under control and be calm back there versus being hurried.”
Leadership and sound decision-making are among the most critical components for a quarterback. They are areas in which Collins continues to seek improvement.
He praised his predecessor, Marcus Wasilewski, with providing a great example of what it means to be a well-rounded quarterback.
“In the locker room and off the field, Marcus always put out a great picture,” Collins said. “It was easy for him to be the leader. I have to put out that picture every single second of the day for the team, to be the guy that’s always doing the right thing.”
Collins had a bit of a stumble over the summer. In July, he was among four Black Bears cited for alcohol-related violations during a visit to Sand Beach at Acadia National Park in Bar Harbor.
“That’s something that I never wanted to happen and never wanted to see my teammates or the university go through,” said Collins, who explained the experience helped galvanize in him the importance of his role as a team leader.
“It kind of made me step back for a second and say, ‘Hey, you’ve really got to look at the big picture here, what you’re trying to do and go after that,’” he said. “(In) every aspect of my life, I have to be the guy that’s doing the right thing.”
The players were not suspended by the university but will be required to perform community service as recommended under the UMaine student-athlete code of conduct.
Bourgoin said while the misstep did not jeopardize Collins’ quest to be the starting quarterback, it reinforced the coaching staff’s emphasis on leadership and how the student-athletes must represent themselves, the team and the university.
“[As Division I athletes and coaches] we’re held to a higher standard, and that’s what you sign up for,” Bourgoin said.
“We want a guy who is, not only on the field but off the field, going to provide leadership and make good decisions and make sure guys are doing the right things,” he added.
Bourgoin said what Collins lacks most is game experience. He and UMaine’s numerous unproven players need to play to improve.
For Collins, the most important aspect will be recognizing how to move the offense without making game-changing mistakes.
“He has all the physical skills,” Bourgoin said. “It comes down to: Can he manage a team? Can he lead a team? Can he not turn the ball over? Those are the things that I want to see from him in his development.”
Collins got a taste of game action last season, including a relief stint during a contest against Northwestern University of the Big Ten Conference. He said Saturday’s game will be a test of maintaining poise under pressure.
“I’m going to be really excited, but all these guys are going to be behind me,” he said. “I’ve just got to stay level-headed as a quarterback and be confident out there and stay calm.”