ORONO, Maine — Saturday morning’s Jeff Cole Scrimmage served as an audition of sorts for University of Maine quarterbacks Marcus Wasilewski and John Ebeling.
The stage was chilly, windy Morse Field at Alfond Stadium, where the Black Bear football team wrapped up its spring season with the annual spring game.
Approximately 200 people turned out in the fall-like conditions to get a preview of the 2012 team, which opens its season Sept. 8 at Boston College.
While head coach Jack Cosgrove has a handful of positions to fill because of graduation losses, none is more crucial than quarterback. Ever since Warren Smith and Chris Treister of Cape Elizabeth completed their eligibility in December, the spot has been up for grabs.
Enter juniors Wasilewski and Ebeling, who are showcasing their skills in an an attempt to earn the starting position.
Each got numerous repetitions during Saturday’s action, which encompassed approximately 60 plays from scrimmage. Ebeling and Wasilewski each played with the Bears’ first and second units.
A hard-fought competition for the starting quarterback spot has been routine at UMaine during the last several seasons. Nothing has changed this spring.
“We’re not done evaluating them, anyway,” Cosgrove said. “They’ve been competing. They’ve been on the same level since day one.”
Wasilewski, a 6-foot-1, 205-pounder from Kulpmont, Pa., served as the Bears’ No. 3 quarterback last season behind Smith and Treister. He has taken only a handful of snaps at quarterback (2-for-2 passing, 10 yards), but has appeared in seven career games and did see limited special teams duty.
Ebeling (6-4, 220), who hails from Mahwah, N.J., got on the field last fall after UMaine’s receiving corps was significantly thinned by injuries. He appeared in 13 games as a slot receiver and caught two passes, both for touchdowns, including a key grab in the upset victory at James Madison.
Each player realizes he is not where he wants or needs to be if he hopes to lead the offense next season.
“Throughout the spring, I feel like I progressed, picking up some things,” Wasilewski said. “It’s just going to come with experience. We’ve got to take one thing at a time, do a great job through the summer, and just keep progressing.”
“We’re both newcomers to the position, so my focus isn’t on just winning the position, it’s to be getting better every single day I’m out here and fix things that I did wrong in the previous days,” Ebeling said.
Cosgrove pointed out that both players have the ability to run well, which is something that has become more important in the college ranks with the way offenses have trended in recent years.
He views Wasilewski as more of a drop-back thrower, while Ebeling might be more successful sprinting out. They continued to exhibit their growth on Saturday.
“[Wasilewski is] more of a pocket guy than John [Ebeling] is,” Cosgrove said. “I think that over the course of the spring, you could tell a quarterback is developing confidence in the pocket because you can see his eyes down the field. You don’t feel him looking at the rush.”
“John gives us more of an edge guy,” Cosgrove said. “I barked at him a couple times, thought he should have come out and run the ball one time and thrown it another time when he didn’t.”
Like their predecessors, Ebeling and Wasilewski have earned each other’s respect during their three years at UMaine. They know they will need to support each other, regardless of who takes the snaps next fall.
“The competition’s great,” Wasilewski said. “I think it pushes us harder to get better every day because somebody’s right there to take your position if you’re not stepping up to the plate.”
Cosgrove, who has witnessed the quarterback competition process with Smith and Treister, and those two along with Mike Brusko before that — among others — knows time will solve the issue.
“A decision is always made easier when you let it stand the course of time and that’s what we’ll do,” Cosgrove said. “One of them will surface ahead of the other and I think that will happen during preseason [in August].”
Either way, he seems confident either will be capable of directing the Bears in 2012.
“I think both of those guys have moved forward in a way where they show you that they can play in the CAA. Now it’s just a matter of how well and we have to provide them ways of success.”
The offense appeared to get the best of things during the Cole scrimmage as only twice did an offensive unit put the ball in the end zone.
One of few offensive highlights came from a pair of former eastern Maine high school standouts.
With the third-string offense and defense squaring off, former Foxcroft Academy quarterback Ryan Stroud threw a 29-yard touchdown pass to former Bangor High standout Josiah Hartley.
The other score came on the ensuing possession, when junior tailback Terrell Walker banged in from a yard out.
Senior kicker Brian Harvey did boot a 37-yard field goal early in the session for the only other points of the scrimmage.
Overall, Cosgrove was pleased with what he saw from his squad.
“I was probably most encouraged [that] we got a lot of younger players on the field and they were able to do some things,” he said.
“These are guys we’re advancing to our one [first-team] unit, so it was really good to see those guys perform, to see their skills.”