ORONO, Maine — Approximately one week before the University of Maine lost to the University of New Hampshire in their mutual opener in 2017, Drew Belcher began learning a new position.
He had played quarterback for three seasons at UMaine, but redshirt freshman Chris Ferguson won the starting job.
Head coach Joe Harasymiak and the staff decided to try Belcher as an H-back, a hybrid tight end/fullback.
Belcher accepted their decision. He responded with four catches for 67 yards against UNH, and finished the season with 17 receptions for 233 yards and two touchdowns.
The 6-foot-3 Belcher played at 235 pounds a year ago but has since added 15 pounds. He had a memorable game in the 35-7 win over New Hampshire last Thursday, leading all receivers with five catches (34 yards) and throwing a 52-yard touchdown pass to Jaquan Blair off a reverse.
“He is one of the best tight ends in this league,” UNH head coach Sean McDonnell said. “After being a quarterback for three years and moving to tight end is an unbelievably unselfish thing to do. I saw him keep getting better last year. He can catch, he can run and he can throw.”
Belcher downplayed his willingness to accept the positional reassignment.
“I just wanted to win football games. The coaches felt it was the best way to do it, so that’s what I did,” Belcher said.
He admitted he was learning the position on the fly last season and feels much more comfortable now. Belcher was lined up more as an H-back a year ago, off the line of scrimmage.
This year, he will line up more on the line of scrimmage as a tight end.
“My big focus was to put some weight on, so I could block the bigger guys, like the defensive ends and stuff,” said Belcher, a native of Reading, Massachusetts. “I’m light-years ahead of where I was last year with my footwork. I’m learning how to deal with movement on the defensive line.”
He and Ferguson worked out together in Orono during the offseason. They also traveled to Los Angeles and trained.
“It has really made a difference,” Belcher said. “Chris has thrown a lot to me. It’s good to see that stuff has paid off.”
Belcher’s versatility gives the Black Bears another offensive weapon.
In his two seasons as a quarterback, he completed 155 of 272 passes for 1,468 yards and seven touchdowns. He also rushed for 626 yards on 203 carries and three more TDs. He was the team’s No. 2 rusher both seasons.
“Drew is an elite tight end in this league,” offensive coordinator Nick Charlton said. “Last year we could do certain things with him, and now we can do everything with him. He is a factor in the running game, the passing game and protection.”
Former tight ends coach Pat Denecke, who is now the offensive line coach, called Belcher a gifted athlete and said he would have been the best tight end at the University of Nevada, a Football Bowl Subdivision school where he previously coached.
Denecke said Belcher won the team’s weight room award for his training.
“The fact he was one of our leading receivers in the New Hampshire game a year ago after making the switch a week to 10 days before the game, tells you how smart he is and how hard he works. He embraced it,” Denecke said.
Belcher said he thoroughly enjoys Charlton’s creative offensive schemes. He likes being utilized in different ways and said the chemistry developed with Ferguson has been important. For example, if Ferguson has to scramble, Belcher knows how to find a seam and get open.
“We’re on the same page,” Belcher said.
“Drew has made great progress,” Harasymiak said.
Belcher is looking forward to Saturday’s game at Western Kentucky, an FBS school, and to the rest of the season.
“I’ve never been to the playoffs, and that’s the big goal,” Belcher said.
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