With 1,000-yard rusher Ramon Jefferson having transferred and senior Joe Fitzpatrick battling injuries, the University of Maine football team has an opening or two at the running back position.
Two Football Bowl Subdivision transfers have a golden opportunity to make an immediate impact for the Black Bears and each brings something different to the table.
Emmanuel Reed transferred to UMaine from Buffalo, where he rushed for 840 yards and caught 11 passes for 116 yards in 2017 and rushed for 371 yards last season. The 5-foot-8, 195-pound scatback is a graduate student with one year of eligibility.
Jordan Rowell (6-1, 210) played on special teams and on the scout team in practice last season at Northern Illinois but didn’t get any game carries. He spent two seasons at Northern Illinois and has three years of eligibility remaining.
Rowell is eligible immediately because players who transfer from an FBS school to a Football Championship Subdivision program are not subject to the one-year hiatus usually required under NCAA guidelines.
FBS teams, including the top-level programs in the country, can offer 85 scholarship equivalences. FCS schools are limited to 63.
“They’re athletic and strong and have different skill sets,” UMaine head coach Nick Charlton said of the transfers.
UMaine only recently has begun attracting FBS players in search of another school. There are five on the roster this season, including Jordan Swann, Ori Jean-Charles and Jeremiah Dadeboe.
The Black Bears had one each of the previous two campaigns but may have gained attention from its Colonial Athletic Association title and its run to the FCS national semifinals.
The timing is good as the Black Bears have lost their leading rusher each of the past two seasons.
Josh Mack left UMaine after the 2017 season in search of an FBS opportunity. He landed at Liberty University.
Reed graduated from Buffalo but had a year of eligibility as he played only three seasons. Under NCAA rules, student-athletes have five years in which to complete four years of eligibility.
Northern Illinois and Buffalo met last fall in the Mid-American Conference championship game won 30-29 by NIU.
“Emmanuel has played a lot of football at a high [FBS] level and he has been productive,” Charlton said. “You can do a lot of different things with him.”
“[Rowell] is a big back. He’s a younger guy. He is strong and he has really shown some different things he can do well, particularly inside,” Charlton said.
UMaine running backs coach Makana Garrigan said Reed and Rowell have the potential to be a productive 1-2 punch.
He said Reed “has some twitch and makes people miss,” while Rowell is a strong physical back.
Rowell considers UMaine to be a second chance for himself, a place where he can help establish a “brand.”
“Everybody wants to play. I saw leaving Northern Illinois as a blessing. Everyone has their path and my path brought me to Maine,” Rowell said.
The native of Elmhurst, Illinois, a Chicago suburb, said he fell in love with UMaine on his visit.
“I liked that it was really different from home. I’m a city kid. Up here, there are a lot of trees and deer everywhere. The only thing I don’t like is the bugs. There’s a lot of bugs up here,” Rowell said.
Reed said he chose UMaine because of the team chemistry.
“They’re all young and hungry. They remind me of myself,” said Reed, a native of Crestview, Florida.
Reed stressed that his statistics at Buffalo, which included 11 touchdowns and five 100-yard games, won’t mean anything this season.
“It doesn’t matter what I did two years ago or last season. You want to be the best version of yourself. Everyday is a challenge to get better,” Reed said.
Reed and Rowell are getting used to the playbook and have helped each other out as they make the transition to a new program.
“We’re starting to establish a chemistry. We can be a really good duo,” Reed said.
“We want to make each other better,” Rowell said.
“We’re also competing with each other. We both want to start, and that’s driving us,” he said.
Reed said junior quarterback Chris Ferguson has been helpful to integrate the transfers.
“He’ll tell you the plays if you’re confused. He calms me down. He has that experience,” Reed said.
Ferguson said the two newcomers have plenty of potential to help the Black Bears win.
“[Reed] is small and shifty and has good hands coming out of the backfield, and we’re going to do some stuff with that,” Ferguson said. “[Rowell] is bigger and can run over some people.
UMaine, ranked No. 7 in the country in the STATS FCS preseason poll, will hold its first of its three intrasquad scrimmages starting at 10:05 a.m. Wednesday.
UMaine opens the season Aug. 30 in Orono against Sacred Heart.
Watch the new UMaine head football coach speak about his plans for the Black Bears