ORONO, Maine — While most people are driving to work or stopping at Dunkin’ Donuts for a coffee and a doughnut, the University of Maine football team is practicing.
It is the first time in recent memory that the Black Bears have practiced in the morning, other than some training camp sessions, rather than hitting the field during the mid-afternoon.
The team holds meetings at 6:30 a.m., then practices from 8-10 a.m.
Football players don’t sign up for classes that begin before 11 a.m. unless the class is required for their major and isn’t offered at a later time.
UMaine head coach Joe Harasymiak started the morning practice regimen during spring ball in April to see how it would work out.
The UMaine women’s soccer team also practices during the morning, 7-9 a.m., and has done so for three years.
Harasymiak entertained the idea of morning practices after talking to other Colonial Athletic Association coaches who had implemented the format.
“They’re sharper in the beginning of the day, and it’s good for us coaches, especially,” Harasymiak said.
“You get practice out of the way and have the rest of the day to game-plan,” explained the third-year head coach.
UMaine’s practice time transition began last spring, when workouts began at 6:30 a.m., and carried over into summer workouts.
“They’re going to be a little sleepy at first, but we have to coach them hard in that moment to get them through it, and they’re usually good once they get going,” Harasymiak said.
UMaine is 2-0 entering a Saturday game at Football Bowl Subdivision team Central Michigan.
Sophomore quarterback Chris Ferguson said morning practices are more common in the Football Bowl Subdivision, which includes higher-level programs.
“We’re getting everything done in the morning, football-wise. We’re able to focus on that and then we go to school,” he said.
UMaine senior strong safety Jeff DeVaughn said the morning practices are much better than afternoon sessions.
“You get a lot of time to study in the afternoon. You have a lot of down time to watch film, to get treatments,” DeVaughn said.
Both junior nose tackle Charles Mitchell, who admitted he is not a “morning person,” and junior defensive end Kayon Whitaker spoke to the benefit of having more time to receive medical/training treatments.
“This is a lot more time-convenient,” Whitaker said.
The UMaine women’s soccer team also employs morning practices, and head coach Scott Atherley said the pros far outweigh the cons.
“The initial impetus was to get everyone together for practice. A lot of student-athletes are science majors and they’ll have labs to go to, so to get everyone to a practice in the afternoon is virtually impossible,” Atherley said.
He said practicing in the morning enables his student-athletes to establish a regular sleep cycle, which includes getting to bed at a reasonable hour in order to be ready to go at 7 a.m.
Harasymiak and Atherley said UMaine’s academic advisers have been helpful organizing their athletes’ schedules so they don’t have conflicts.
Atherley said another positive is practicing in the cooler morning temperatures during the late summer, although he holds some preseason practices in the afternoon to prepare them for the occasional game on a hot afternoon.
Even so, 7 a.m. practices in the fall can mean some chilly temperatures as well.
The UMaine softball team practices at 12:30 p.m. most days and slips in an 8-10 a.m. practice from time to time and then schedules the next day’s practice at 6 p.m.
“That makes them feel like they have almost two days off,” head softball coach Mike Coutts said. “They can be college kids and focus on their academics.”
He called the football team’s conversion to morning practices fantastic.
“It gives them the rest of the day to focus on their schoolwork and do other things they need to do,” Coutts said.
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