The University of Maine football team had its first full practice in 321 days last week in preparation for a spring season.
Black Bears head football coach Nick Charlton said they have 37 newcomers this year and UMaine has fortified its roster with transfers from the Football Bowl Subdivision, the top level of NCAA football.
The group includes defensive tackle Austin Chambers from Brigham Young and tight end Steve Petrick, who played at Temple and at Robert Morris, another program that competes in the Football Championship Subdivision along with UMaine.
Both are graduate students who normally would have one year of eligibility remaining. Due to the coronavirus, Division I football players won’t be docked any eligibility this season so Chambers and Petrick could return next fall.
“The last two years, we’ve tried to add around 10 transfers. That’s about a 10th of our roster,” Charlton said. “They’re valuable. Having guys with experience is really important.”
He said UMaine targets talented transfers who are younger and have more remaining eligibility.
“That allows them to really get integrated into our program and learn our culture,” Charlton said. “In the same vain, we also look to take guys who really fit our program.”
In terms of pursuing graduate students, he said that process requires more consideration because the players are only eligible for one season.
Other transfers who have impressed the coaching staff are running back Elijah Barnwell and wide receiver Jalen Jordan, both redshirt sophomores from Rutgers, and Connecticut junior wide receiver Zavier Scott.
Barnwell was a redshirt at UMaine last year but Jordan and Scott are newcomers as are UConn junior wideout Garrison Burnett and junior University of Maryland defensive back Fofie Bazzie.
Having several months to work with the newcomers instead of just a summer is beneficial but Charlton stressed that this fall is critical for every player on the team, not just the transfers or newcomers.
“You need to practice in order to play. If you can’t practice in the fall or don’t have the ability to do that, you can’t play in the spring,” Charlton said.
He said the first full practice day with the entire team in full pads was a productive one. He admitted the Black Bears were a little rusty.
“But they were flying around and there was a lot of energy. It felt like football again. I was pleased,” Charlton said.
UMaine continues to follow strict COVID-19 guidelines and since they had been working in small groups and had a lot of meetings through Zoom, some of the guys actually met their teammates for the first time.
The players continue to wear face coverings at all times with clear splashguards as an extra precaution.
It has been a challenge for the players but Charlton said the players and coaches have adapted well.
The COVID-19 pandemic pushed UMaine and the Colonial Athletic Association’s fall sports into a spring campaign. The football team will have 15 practices this fall.
The CAA plans a six-game league schedule split between North and South divisions. Teams will only play opponents within their division meaning they will play one team twice.
The regular season will run March 6-April 17 followed by the FCS playoffs, which have been pared from 24 teams to 16.
Charlton stressed that in spite of how the state and the university have handled the pandemic, it will require some help from state agencies in terms of their guidelines in order to be able to play.
UMaine plans three scrimmages, including the Jeff Cole Memorial Spring Game which will be moved to the fall, but the details are still being worked out.
“We can’t commit to anything just yet,” said Charlton, who remains optimistic there will be a season in the spring.
“The only thing that will stop us is if the pandemic gets worse because we don’t handle it correctly as a country. But we certainly don’t plan on us being a reason UMaine can’t play,” he said.