BANGOR — New Husson University football coach Sean Murphy is hoping to play an exhibition game this spring against the University of New Brunswick-Saint John.
The game would be played in Saint John, probably at the end of April, and use Canadian football rules.
The primary differences are Canadian football uses 12 players instead of 11, teams only have three downs to pick up a first down instead of four and the field is longer (110 yards compared to 100) and wider (65 yards compared to 53.3 yards).
Murphy explained that NCAA Division III schools are allowed to play a spring game against an international opponent once every four years.
“And with our proximity to Canada, it was a no-brainer,” said Murphy.
The University of New Brunswick-Saint John has a club football program that plays in the five-team Atlantic Football League. The second-year team played the Husson JV team this fall, and Husson triumphed. But Murphy said UNB-Saint John’s program showed dramatic improvement after that and won the conference title.
“You are allowed to have 15 practices in the spring, but your players don’t wear pads and we don’t use the sleds or anything,” explained Murphy. “However, if you have a game (against international competition), your players are allowed to wear pads (and participate in contact drills) for all 15 days.”
“That would be a huge benefit to us,” added the 32-year-old Murphy. “Speed changes when you have pads on. It would serve us very well logistically. We’d be able to get a full picture (of our players). We’d also try to work out a cultural aspect to it. It would be a great experience. It’s an easy drive.”
He said he is “very optimistic” about the game becoming a reality.
“But there’s still a lot of hoops to jump through,” said Murphy. “We’re going to have to hit the road and do some fundraising.”
He estimated that if the team spends two nights in Saint John, it would cost approximately $15,000 for transportation, meals and lodging.
“The players are excited about it,” said Murphy, who has been busy on the recruiting trail with assistants Shawn Demaray, Shane Rogers and Joe Doyle.
Murphy will try to lead the program back from a 1-9 season under former head coach Niles Nelson.
There have been plenty of positive steps already, he said.
“We’ve made great headway, but there is still a great amount of work to do,” he said.
He said one of their goals is to make sure they visit every high school that offers football in the state of Maine by the end of January.
“There is a great foundation for Maine kids to come here and be impact guys for us. We’ve had great luck with the guys who are in the program now,” said Murphy. “This is an opportunity school for Maine kids, it always has been and always will be.”
They have also had previous success recruiting in Connecticut, Massachusetts, the mid-Atlantic states and Florida and will continue to recruit there.
Their top recruiting priority is the offensive and defensive lines, he said.
“Normally, that makes up a third of your recruiting class, but we could be close to half in next year’s class,” he said.
But the Eliot native was also quick to say they are looking for players at every position.
“We want to find roles in the program for everyone at some level,” said Murphy. “They may not be the most glamorous roles, but they will all have a role.”
They intend to make sure they recruit “the right kids who are not only committed to playing football, but they understand the big picture here. There’s a whole lot more to Husson than just football, and we need our players to understand that.”
He was referring to their academic pursuits and community involvement.
Murphy said the primary physical attributes they are seeking are speed and “high-motor guys.”
He means players who go all out from the start of a play to the whistle.
Murphy said they have had an exceptional turnout in the weight room this winter and “10 or 15 guys” who chose not to play last fall have returned or joined the program. Some are freshmen who had decided not to play.
“Right now we have 55 guys in our program and that’s considerably higher than the number we finished with,” he said.