ORONO, Maine — The University of Maine football team was scheduled to begin preparing for next season on Monday night with the start of spring workouts.
Joe Harasymiak, who guided the Bears to a 6-5 record in his first season at the helm last fall, said he is looking for his team to “continue growing together and building off last season. We want to take the next step forward and make this culture better.”
UMaine went 5-3 in the Colonial Athletic Association and was in position to earn an NCAA Football Subdivision playoff berth only to lose 24-21 in its season-ending game against archrival New Hampshire.
The Black Bears open the 2017 regular season at New Hampshire on Thursday, Aug. 31.
Harasymiak said he will do some experimenting with players in different positions during the spring. There are 16 players who redshirted during the fall who are getting their first action.
There are several key players to replace and at the top of the list is quarterback Dan Collins, who took every snap last season.
Junior Drew Belcher, who redshirted last season, started four games at quarterback in 2015 and appeared in nine games. He completed 78 of 120 passes for 728 yards and four touchdowns. He was also the team’s second-leading rusher with 314 yards on 88 carries and a TD.
He had completed 77 of 152 passes for 740 yards and three TDs in 2014 and rushed for 312 yards on 115 carries with a pair of TDs.
Senior Max Staver, a Brentwood, Tennessee, native who transferred from Houston Baptist after spending a redshirt year at the University of Florida and a year at Tyler Junior College (Texas), and redshirt freshman Chris Ferguson from Fort Washington, Pennsylvania, are the other candidates.
Redshirt freshman Jack Walsh has transferred.
“I don’t want any of them trying to win the job on the first day,” said Harasymiak. “I want them to become leaders and ensure that everyone around them gets better every day.”
UMaine has scheduled five, two-hour practices prior to the first of four scrimmages on successive Saturdays beginning April 15 at 9:45 a.m.
The last will be the annual Jeff Cole Spring Scrimmage on Saturday, May 6.
The Cole game, named after the late UMaine assistant coach, has been a controlled scrimmage but Harasymiak would like to make it a Blue-White game “if we have enough healthy bodies.”
One player who won’t be involved in spring drills is Temple University transfer Zaire Williams, the second-leading rusher on the team last fall.
Harasymiak said Williams left school because he didn’t meet the necessary academic requirements.
“It’s disappointing. You give a guy a second chance [and he doesn’t take advantage]. But you’ve got to get [academics] done,” said Harasymiak. “He had some [difficult] things go on in his personal life with his family and stuff. He lost his grandmother.
“Hopefully, he’ll land on his feet. We’re trying to help him with that. We’ll see what happens,” Harasymiak added.
The running back from Sicklerville, New Jersey, played in 10 of 11 games and rushed for 302 yards on 75 carries (4 yards per carry) with a touchdown. He also caught two passes for five yards.
Prior to attending UMaine, Williams spent two seasons at Football Bowl Subdivision Temple in Philadelphia and gained 533 yards on 101 carries his freshman year, ranking third on the Owls’ freshman rushing list.
True freshman Josh Mack led UMaine in rushing last season with 712 yards on 140 carries (5.1 ypc) and scored six touchdowns. Sophomore Darian Davis-Ray had 280 yards on 62 carries (4.5 ypc).
Junior Nigel Beckford (45 carries, 95 yds.) led the team in rushing his first two seasons but was coming off shoulder surgery.