The University of Maine confirmed on Tuesday that which Black Bears players, coaches and fans had feared.
Junior linebacker Deshawn Stevens, who last season served as the linchpin of the UMaine defense, has been lost for the season with a ruptured Achilles tendon.
Athletics spokesman Tyson McHatten on Tuesday revealed that Stevens, who injured his right leg during the first half of last Friday’s season-opening 42-14 victory over Sacred Heart, will undergo surgery on Wednesday to repair the injury.
Stevens racked up a team-leading 120 tackles last season, helping UMaine win the Colonial Athletic Association championship and surge all the way to the Football Championship Subdivision national semifinals.
The 6-foot-2, 255-pounder from Toronto was an All-CAA second-team selection last fall and last month earned STATS FCS Preseason All-America third-team recognition.
Stevens was injured early in the second quarter while rushing Sacred Heart quarterback Logan Marchi. Stevens was hauled down by a Pioneers offensive linemen on the third-down play.
“It’s hard. He’s an emotional leader of the team and an excellent football player,” UMaine head coach Nick Charlton said. “But, at the end of the day in this program, you’ve got to step up. It’s got to be the next guy up [to come in and fill the void]. Deshawn is still going to be with us.”
Charlton, who said UMaine will petition to get back a year of eligibility for Stevens, said a ruptured Achilles usually means a seven- to nine-month recovery and hopes he will be back next summer.
Under NCAA rules, players have five years in which to complete four years of eligibility. However, under certain circumstances, they can be granted a sixth year.
After redshirting as a freshman in 2016 and playing each of the last two seasons, Stevens has at least one season of eligibility remaining and UMaine will petition for a second because he appeared in only one game this season.
The NCAA rules regarding a sixth-year of eligibility are cloudy although players who have been medical redshirts for two seasons usually seem to be granted a sixth year based on NCAA statistics.
As for players who are non-medical redshirts for their freshman seasons as Stevens was, waivers for the sixth year have been granted and denied.
Stevens, one of four Black Bear captains, was named a HERO Football Championship Subdivision Sophomore All-American last season after ranking second in the CAA in tackles for a loss (1.21 per game). He was third in total tackles and fifth in sacks (9.0).
“He is a very impactful player on this team,” senior defensive tackle Alejandro Oregon said. “Personally, it’s a big loss to me. It’s very upsetting to see a brother go down like that. It’s going to be difficult to not see him on the field any more.”
Junior quarterback Chris Ferguson said he anticipates Stevens taking on a new role helping coach the linebackers.
“I know he’s going to help those younger players and whoever is playing for him. He’s going to do all he can to get them ready for the game and, during the game, he will keep them in a good mindset,” Ferguson said.
UMaine is expected to move senior Taji Lowe, who was suspended for the opener for a violation of team rules, to middle “mike” linebacker. That will open the door for sophomore Adrian Otero to assume the “will” or weak-side role.
“Having Taji back is a great piece to have,” said junior Jaron Grayer, the other starting linebacker. “And Otero is going to step up, just like he did last year against Western Kentucky when me and Taji went down.”
The Black Bears also have junior Owen Elliott of Saco and redshirt freshman Myles Taylor, each of whom was involved in three tackles against Sacred Heart, in the linebacker mix.