ORONO — Arron Achey spent his first year at the University of Maine dealing with injuries.
He sustained a finger injury last summer that kept him off the field in the fall, then injured his toe on the first day of spring workouts in April and was sidelined again.
A healthy Achey (pronounced AH-key) has made a good impression during the Black Bears’ training camp this month.
The 6-foot-1, 215-pound linebacker from Newmanstown, Pa., is expected to be in the rotation when UMaine opens its 2011 season with a Sept. 3 home game against Bryant University at Alfond Stadium.
“It’s been good to get out here and actually hit some people for once,” Achey said Tuesday after making six tackles during the Bears’ intrasquad scrimmage on Morse Field.
Achey’s contributions inside have been especially noteworthy, since senior All-Colonial Athletic Association linebacker Donte Dennis is likely to miss the season while recovering from “Tommy John” elbow surgery performed last spring.
“You look at Achey, (he) didn’t do much last year and (transfer Sam) Shipley’s brand new to the program and you lose Donte — you’ve got a challenge,” said UMaine head coach Jack Cosgrove, who was quick to point out Achey has begun to establish himself.
“He’s one of the pleasant surprises of camp,” Cosgrove said. “We really didn’t have an evaluation of him because of the time he spent off the field last year because of injury.”
On Tuesday, Achey was lined up inside, next to senior linebacker Vinson Givans, on the top defensive unit. Sophomores Troy Eastman and Shawn Bodtmann and junior Shipley also have shown improvement and should give the Bears plenty of depth.
Cosgrove complimented Achey by mentioning him in the same breath as former UMaine stars such as Stephen Cooper, Lofa Tatupu and Andrew Downey. Each also played quarterback in high school but concentrated on defense at the college level.
“Quarterback was fun, but let’s say I enjoyed hitting more than getting hit,” said Achey, who is trying to make up for the practice time lost last season.
“It’s getting thrown into the fire, but that’s how you learn,” he said.
This season, Achey will wear jersey No. 33, which has a special meaning.
Former UMaine teammate Charles Kyeremeh Jr. wore No. 33 at Cedar Crest High School, near Achey’s hometown in Pennsylvania. Kyeremeh was killed July 10 in a motorcycle accident in Pennsylvania.
The two had heard of each other before becoming teammates with the Bears.
“We kind of hit it off on the (recruiting) visit and became good friends,” Achey said.
Achey asked Kyeremeh’s family if he could honor him by wearing the No. 33 jersey Charles Jr. had intended to use this season.
“It was kind of like his trademark. It’s an honor to wear it,” Achey said.
Injuries slowing several Bears
Football can be a cruel game in terms of the toll it exacts on some of its participants.
That dynamic was evident by the number of UMaine players who were unable to participate Tuesday in the Bears’ last scrimmage of the preseason.
The list included Dennis, tight ends Jeff Falvey (knee) and Derek Buttles, defensive linemen Kris Enslen and Brent Rice (knee) and place-kicker Brian Harvey.
No fewer than 14 players were unable to play or were held out of action for precautionary reasons.