ORONO, Maine — It was like stepping on the stage for a taping of “American Idol,” “The Voice” or “America’s Got Talent.”
Only this was the football equivalent — and there was no singing.
It was “Pro Day” at the University of Maine where professional football scouts put nine former Black Bear players through a variety of drills to see if they are potential candidates to be drafted or land a free-agent deal next month.
The players prepare far in advance to try to impress the scouts.
Scouts Mike Derice of the Indianapolis Colts and Camren Williams of the New England Patriots coordinated the drills in the Latti Fitness Center and the Mahaney Dome on the University of Maine campus. Rich McKenna from the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the Canadian Football League was also in attendance.
“It definitely helped me get a job. It made the difference,” said former Black Bears two-time, all-conference defensive lineman Mike DeVito, who signed as an undrafted free agent with the New York Jets and had a nine-year, 110-game NFL career before retiring a year ago.
“It’s good for the guys to get out and showcase what they have,” UMaine head coach Joe Harasymiak said.
“It went great, a lot better than I expected,” Holden native and former John Bapst of Bangor standout Max Andrews, UMaine’s starting center last season, said. “I definitely surprised myself. I had been experiencing some pain from an abdominal strain. I had been worried about that for the past couple of months. But everything felt good, my confidence was up, everybody was watching.
“My adrenaline definitely helped today,” said Andrews, a third-team All-Colonial Athletic Association selection last fall.
Dave Sanzaro, his former high school defensive coordinator and a former UMaine defensive lineman, offered to train him in preparation for Pro Day and Andrews took him up on the offer four months ago.
“A big thanks to Dave for everything he has done, putting up with me and my time constraints. Without him, I definitely wouldn’t have gotten here,” said Andrews.
Quarterback Dan Collins, linebacker Christophe Mulumba Tshimanga and defensive lineman Pat Ricard were also encouraged by their performances.
“My numbers were better than I expected. It went really well,” said Tshimanga, a three-time, All-CAA first-team selection. “I lost 10 pounds. I wanted to improve my agility and to run faster and I think it helped.”
Tshimanga trained for six weeks in Nashville, Tennessee, and one of his training partners was Louisiana State University All-America running back Leonard Fournette.
“He’s a good kid. He works hard. He pushes you. We helped each other get better,” said Tshimanga, who told Fournette he hopes to get a chance to tackle him on an NFL field some day.
“I can’t wait for that day,” grinned Tshimanga, who graduated in December with a degree in psychology and enjoyed being back with his former teammates.
He said he wasn’t concerned that there were only three scouts in Orono, “because all the [other] scouts get the numbers.”
Ricard, a two-time, All-CAA first-teamer, said “[I] hit the numbers I wanted to hit and I did even better than I thought in some events.”
For example, he did 33 bench press repetitions with 225 pounds, which is three more than his previous best.
“It was a good day,” said the 300-pound Ricard, who trained at the Saint Vincent Sports Performance Center in Indiana for eight weeks before returning to Orono two weeks ago.
“I’ve been preparing for this for the past three months. I was happy to get it over with,” said Ricard, who graduated with a degree in economics.
Collins said the Pro Day environment, with his teammates cheering him on, constituted a “legitimate game-day atmosphere.
“I was more excited than nervous, although the nerves got to me once I started throwing. But after the first couple of balls, it goes away,” said Collins, a third-team All-CAA pick. “I want to teach and coach some day but I definitely want to keep playing the next couple of years while I’m still young.
“It’s all in the scouts’ hands now,” he said.
The drills included the bench press, vertical jump, 40-yard dash, shuttle run and broad jump.
Former UMaine football coach Jack Cosgrove said drills such as the vertical jump and broad jump test the hip flexors and explosiveness of the “big guys” and the shuttle run is useful for linemen because it examines their quickness and agility “in small spaces.”
Saskatchewan scout McKenna said the Pro Day enables scouts “to put good numbers into your system.
“So when you watch them on tape, you can actually gauge the speed a player is playing at, his change of direction and how high he can jump. It helps with our evaluations,” said McKenna. “I saw some good athletes out there today and there were a number of good-sized kids. There are some good players here.”
Punter James DeMartini did some of the drills but didn’t get a chance to punt because of the snow outside.
He is heading to San Diego to attend a kicking academy run by former NFL kicker Michael Husted.
“But that’s the way it goes, I guess,” said DeMartini, who tries to kick two or three times a week outside or inside the dome. “There was a great atmosphere here.”