ORONO — It has become increasingly difficult for instate football players to earn playing time at the University of Maine.
With his limited football background, Steve Shea would seem to have been a longshot to ever get a shot to play at UMaine. Instead, the soft-spoken senior from Corinna is a fixture on the Bears’ offensive line.
The 6-foot-4, 290-pound tackle kicks off his final season at UMaine on Saturday when the Bears host Bryant in a 5 p.m. game at Alfond Stadium.
Shea’s goals for this season are simple.
“As an offensive lineman, I want to run the ball,” he said. “I want to have a good running game that opens up the passing game. We want to stay solid throughout the year, just win games.”
Shea has proven himself a versatile contributor during the last three seasons. This year, he has been plugged in at right tackle.
“I’m comfortable there,” Shea said. “I’ve started every position on the line, so the transition isn’t as bad as it was learning a new one.”
Offensive line coach Frank Giufre stresses the importance of his linemen knowing their assignments and those of the players beside them. That has helped Shea become well-rounded.
“It’s a credit to him to have that type of versatility that you need,” said UMaine head coach Jack Cosgrove. “He’s a guy we expect, as a veteran, to perform at a high level.”
Shea’s path to UMaine and the Football Championship Subdivision was not a common one. He didn’t start playing football until he was 10 and, since there wasn’t any organized football in Corinna, he traveled up Route 7 to play Dexter Tigers Peewee Football.
Shea, an avid Denver Broncos fan, then saw his career end briefly because his middle school did not offer the sport. It wasn’t until his junior year of high school that Nokomis Regional High School in Newport formed a club football team. He played two seasons for coach Dave Evans.
“We discovered him in our summer football camp as a big kid who showed a lot of possibility, potential, as a walk-on,” Cosgrove said.
Shea redshirted his first season, but learned the ropes by keeping the play script on a clipboard during games. He was the only freshman lineman to make the travel squad in 2007.
“It was a right of passage,” Shea said. “It helps you a lot when you’re scripting. You learn the plays and you see what happens on the line.”
He started all 13 games at right guard as a redshirt freshman in 2008. He made his debut at Kinnick Stadium against Iowa of the Big Ten.
“I remember the first step onto the field, the crowd roaring, being nervous as heck,” Shea said of the game. “It was a great experience.”
Shea played in 11 games with eight starts in 2009 and logged five starts in nine contests last season.
He has continued to work and improve his technique and his strength while serving as one of the key cogs up front.
“You’ve got to love to play the game, because it’s a hard game to learn, especially at the level (of knowledge and experience) he came in with,” Cosgrove said. “To Steve’s credit, he’s grown from almost a novice of the game to a Division I starter.”
Shea played basketball and was a thrower on the Nokomis track and field team. He was a state champion in the discus and was runner-up in the shot put.
Cosgrove said perhaps the only player who had a more surprising success story at UMaine was Matt Mulligan of West Enfield, who never played football until enrolling at Husson University, then transferred to UMaine. He is now with the NFL’s New York Jets.
Cosgrove lauded Shea for his efforts in the weight room and in the film room. Shea credited some of his success to Giufre, who can be a taskmaster but mostly wants players to maximize their potential.
“It’s a blast,” Shea said of playing for Giufre. “He’s a good guy. He’s very smart and he definitely knows what he’s talking about.”
For Shea, playing football is a labor of love. Representing his town, his high school, his family and his state are important to him.
“I’m proud of the fact that I’m able to contribute to the team and have for the past four years,” Shea said. “Just knowing you’re part of this brotherhood, this team, is a fact you pride yourself on.”
Shea credited his parents, Richard and Kelly Shea, with fostering a strong work ethic and supporting his desire to play football.
Shea is studying kinesiology and physical education, but is contemplating a career in law enforcement.