The University of Maine football program will add 24 players to its roster next fall as the Black Bears try to bounce back from a 4-6 campaign (3-5 in the Colonial Athletic Association) and contend for a Football Championship Subdivision playoff berth.
The Black Bears came up just short two years ago (6-5, 5-3) when archrival New Hampshire beat them in the last regular season game to knock them out of contention and put themselves in the playoffs.
Sixteen players were announced on Wednesday to go with six who were early signees and two transfers.
The 24 newcomers include six offensive linemen, four defensive backs, three defensive ends, three wide receivers, two quarterbacks, two linebackers, a tight end, a kicker-punter, a running back and an interior defensive lineman.
All of the recruits earned all-conference honors.
UMaine second-year head coach Joe Harasymiak is pleased with the group and praised his assistant coaches, saying, “They did a great job addressing our needs.”
There is one Maine native in the group and that is Edward Little High School of Auburn quarterback Grant Hartley, who was a Fitzpatrick Award semifinalist and a Class A North first team selection.
The 6-foot-3, 220-pound Hartley completed 74 of 138 passes in leading the Red Eddies to a 7-2 season. He threw 11 touchdown passes and was intercepted four times. He also ran for 256 yards and six TDs on 63 carries.
“He will start out as a quarterback and we’ll have him learn the offense,” said Harasymiak. “But we could move him to tight end like we did Drew Belcher. He has a big body. We will probably redshirt him next year and see where we want to play him after that.”
Longtime starters Jamil Demby, Isaiah Brooks and John Reddington and injury-plagued Daniel Burrows, who earned several starts when he was healthy, will have to be replaced.
Demby was an All-CAA first team selection this past year as well as a first team Phil Steele FCS All-American and a second team STATS FCS All-American.
The incoming offensive linemen include UMaine’s first ever football player from Denmark in 6-foot-3, 295-pound Matthias Staalsoe from Copenhagen, who played for The Taft School in Connecticut. The others are 6-foot-6, 339-pound Tyrie Francois from Auburndale, Florida; 6-4, 300-pound Michael Gerace from Bel Air, Maryland; 6-7, 290-pound Kevin Jones from Coatesville, Pennsylvania; 6-4, 290-pound Vincent Schell from Oceanside, N.Y. and 6-3, 335-pound Cheyney University transfer Tyler Royal from Raleigh, North Carolina.
Cheyney University is an NCAA Division II school in Pennsylvania.
Most incoming freshmen require a redshirt year to adapt to the physical demands and mental aspects of college football as well as the academic rigors. They spend a lot of time in the weight room to get stronger.
Since student-athletes are given five years in which to complete four years of eligibility, they can sit out a redshirt year and still have four years of eligibility remaining.
But there have been plenty of examples of true freshmen making an immediate impact including UMaine cornerback Manny Patterson and wide receiver Earnest Edwards, who saw a lot of playing time two years ago.
Harasymiak said the incoming offensive linemen have the potential to step right in and contribute next year, including Staalsoe.
He pointed out that some of them have tested extremely well strengthwise so it will be a matter of them learning the playbook and adapting.
The secondary is the team’s second most glaring need for the future and the incoming defensive backs are 6-2, 180-pound Dymir Cave from Philadelphia, 5-10, 180-pound Donnell Henriquez from Harrisburg, Pa.; 6-0, 170-pound Darius Minor from Locust Grove, Virginia, and early signee Katley Joseph, a 5-11, 180-pounder from Ottawa, Ontario.
Four of UMaine’s top eight defensive backs were seniors this year although two of them, Najee Goode and DeAndre Scott, were limited to seven and two games, respectively, by injury.
David Gelb of Manalapan, New Jersey, was chosen the Northeast Kicker of the Year and will be one of the candidates looking to handle the punting and kickoff chores, according to Harasymiak.
The two linebackers are 6-1, 197-pound T.J. Jones from Rochester, New York, and early signee Adrian Otero (6-1, 223) from Hazelton, Pa., and the three defensive ends are 6-4, 230-pound Jalik Heyward from Wilmington, Delaware; Justin Sambu (6-4, 250) from Rocky View, Alberta, and Jonathan Smith-Cobb (6-3, 223) from Townsend, Delaware.
Heyward was named the top defensive lineman in Delaware last season and Sambu was the second-ranked defensive end on Canada in 2016. Otero was the Defensive Player of the Year in District 2 and the Wyoming Valley Conference.
The wide receivers are 6-1,195-pound Alphonso Foray from Germantown, Maryland; Nah’Sir ‘Flash’ Morgan (6-4, 190) from Atlantic City, New Jersey, and Pace transfer Brian Dolan (6-2, 199), who caught eight passes for 105 yards at Pace last fall.
The other quarterback is 6-3, 200-pound Ryan Walsh from Northport, New York, who completed 78-of-121 passes for 1,145 yards and 15 TDs with six interceptions and was named the Boomer Esiason Award winner for being the top quarterback in Suffolk County.
Shawn Bowman is a 6-6, 230-pound tight end from Bear, Delaware; Joshua Lezin (6-1, 261) is a defensive lineman from Jackson, N.J., and the running back is 6-0, 206-pound DaeJuan Sanders from Blackwood, N.J.
UMaine opens the season against New Hampshire on Thursday night, Aug. 30.
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