The man wearing No. 80 was the oldest player on the field for the University of Maine’s Friday morning football practice. The wide receiver caught a touchdown pass from starting quarterback Chris Ferguson.
Joe D’Antonio, who participated in team noncontact drills, is the commissioner of the Colonial Athletic Association, the league in which the Black Bears compete for football.
This is the third year of D’Antonio’s “Practice with the Commissioner” visits, during which he spends a day practicing with all the defending CAA championship teams.
D’Antonio, 51, called it a really special day and thanked the UMaine coaching staff, student-athletes and administration for their roles in making it possible.
“It’s a unique opportunity to get behind the scenes with the coaching staff and the student-athletes and step into their world a little bit and tell them thank you,” D’Antonio said.
“Thank you for what they do for their institution, thank you for what they do in representing the conference in such a first-class manner, and congratulate them on being champions and wish the best of luck in the upcoming season.”
D’Antonio praised the Black Bears for reaching the Football Championship Subdivision national semifinals for the first time in history a year ago.
“We had six teams in the CAA make the playoffs last year,” D’Antonio said, “and for Maine to make that run to the semifinals and be that far away from going to the championship game is a real credit and tribute to everyone here.”
It was the first time in FCS history that six teams from one conference qualified for the 24-team playoffs. Delaware, Elon, James Madison, Stony Brook and Towson were the other CAA representatives. The league put four in the playoffs the previous four seasons.
CAA teams have played in six of the FCS championship games in the past 11 years and won three, Richmond in 2008, Villanova (2009) and James Madison (2016).
What is behind the conference’s success?
“Looking at it from top to bottom, we have 12 institutions committed to being good in football,” D’Antonio said. “There are no easy games, no pushover teams.”
The conference has a variety of goals, winning a national championship among them. Another is to make sure student-athletes graduate.
He said it is also important to promote the conference at a high level and that the CAA has teamed with FloSports as its primary media partner.
D’Antonio believes the conference must do things the right way, including demonstrating a respect for the game and the role it plays at member schools and in society.
“It’s a powerful sport and student-athletes can really gain a lot from their experience,” he said. “We want to make sure at the conference level that we help them maximize that experience.”
D’Antonio said the CAA is not actively looking to expand but is open-minded and will meet with institutions that are interested in joining the conference.
“We have a plan in place but whether or not it gets implemented is a completely different scenario,” he said, declining to divulge whether that plan might include new member schools.
As for his efforts on the field, D’Antonio said he tries to keep himself in shape and was pleased to make a TD reception — although he was quick to point out that he dropped a pass he should have caught.
“It was a lot of fun. When you win the conference, you get good things like this. We really appreciate him coming up,” UMaine head coach Nick Charlton said.
“It was nice for him to show us some love,” Ferguson said. “I think he had a good day. He saw all the ins and outs of what we do everyday at camp.”
Senior nose tackle Charles Mitchell said D’Antonio gave the players a pep talk before practice.
“He motivated all of us and we had a great practice because of it,” Mitchell said.
Former UMaine head football coach and associate athletic director Jack Cosgrove, who is beginning his second season as the head coach at Colby College in Waterville, addressed the team after practice and encouraged them to build on last season’s success.
The Colby staff attended the practice.