ORONO — Last season, with the University of Maine facing a potential punt situation in a close game, long snapper Ryan McCrossan was on the sideline, having an injured hand evaluated.
“I remember saying to (athletic trainer) Ryan Taylor, ‘if he can’t go, you’ve got to let me know right away. If it’s just a matter of a couple of minutes, I can take a timeout to get him on the field,’” recounted head coach Jack Cosgrove.
Timeouts are a valuable commodity in college football, so such a suggestion speaks volumes about McCrossan’s importance to the Black Bears.
The fifth-year senior from Sparta, N.J., is a key special teams performer for UMaine. He will head those units Saturday when the Bears (1-2) open their Colonial Athletic Association schedule with a 6 p.m. game against No. 8 William & Mary on Morse Field at Alfond Stadium.
McCrossan hikes the ball on all punts, extra points and field goals and also plays on the kickoff, kickoff return and punt return units.
“He’s as good as anybody in the league,” Cosgrove said of McCrossan’s snapping efficiency. “He practices it very hard with great attention to detail and a sense of urgency. He really models all of the things you need to have in regard to special teams and their importance to our winning.”
McCrossan, a 6-foot-1, 230-pounder, also is a backup middle linebacker for the Bears. He made five starts there last season.
However, it is on special teams where he has been a mainstay.
He was a wide receiver, safety and linebacker at Seton Hall Prep, and dabbled as a snapper during his senior season. After arriving at UMaine, McCrossan’s brother Pat, a former standout defensive end for the Bears, mentioned to the coaches that Ryan had snapping experience.
“I never really considered myself a snapper, so when I got here I never said I did it,” said Ryan McCrossan, who as a redshirt freshman was pressed into service during his first collegiate game because of an injury to the starter.
He has been UMaine’s long snapper ever since. It is a responsibility McCrossan takes seriously.
“Snapping is something you can’t just occasionally do, you always have to be practicing,” he said. “It’s technique and repetition.”
McCrossan has made tremendous strides in his maturity not only as a football player, but in all aspects of being a student-athlete. Cosgrove recalls having to lean hard on McCrossan to make sure he fulfilled all of his obligations.
“He’s really come a long way in his growth and development,” Cosgrove said. “He’s become a guy who has gotten all the important stuff, not only skills and ability, but the intangibles that go with football: The commitment, the leadership, the discipline, the sacrifice you have to make.”
McCrossan, who chose UMaine over Patriot League schools Lehigh and Colgate, credits his brother with helping show him the way during his first two seasons in Orono.
“He showed me the ins and outs, the dos and don’ts,” McCrossan said. “He was a very positive influence on me.”
McCrossan isn’t a rah-rah kind of player. He prefers the old-fashioned style of showing the younger players the formula for success.
“The seniors, we’ve been around and we try to set an example of how to do things,” McCrossan said. “I lead by example, but I’ll talk to players and help them out if they need it.”
His knowledge, skill and leadership have been evident to his teammates. McCrossan was elected the special teams game captain each of the first three weeks this season.
On kickoffs, McCrossan’s job is to funnel the return to the middle of the field where the ballcarrier can be better contained. On kickoff returns, he lines up in front of the returners and directs them.
“He puts a lot of importance on it,” said UMaine special teams coordinator Kevin Cahill. “For me, it’s a dream. The kid’s a linebacker and he’s a great special teams guy. I love having him on the field.”
McCrossan has embraced his role as a special teams specialist.
“Playing at this level, you have to understand that everyone is good, so if you don’t play then you can’t really hang your head, you have to keep working,” McCrossan said. “Special teams is just as important, so I think that’s a huge responsibility and something I really take a lot of pride in.”
McCrossan is studying communications and hopes to work in business upon graduation.
This fall, his aim is to help UMaine gel quickly and try to make a run at a CAA championship.
“It’s almost a clean slate right now because we’re going into conference games,” he said. “We’ve learned some lessons and we have to keep improving.”