Corey Hetherman was the architect behind one of the best defenses in University of Maine football history.
In 2018, as the defensive coordinator/defensive line coach, his Black Bears led the Football Championship Subdivision in rushing defense, allowing just 79.2 yards per game. They were second in sacks with 47 and fourth in overall defense, surrendering only 313.1 yards per game.
The Black Bears also led the Colonial Athletic Association in fewest rushing yards per carry (2.4), interceptions (18), fumbles recovered (13) and fumbles recovered for a touchdown (3).
UMaine won the CAA championship and reached the FCS semifinals for the first time in school history.
Hetherman and defensive backs coach Matt Birkett left after the season to join the staff assembled by new James Madison University head coach Curt Cignetti. They will be facing former players and colleagues on Saturday when the 1-0 Dukes, the nation’s third-ranked team, host 0-1 UMaine at 4 p.m. in Harrisonburg, Virginia.
“It will be interesting,” said Hetherman, who spent four seasons at UMaine, including the last three as the defensive coordinator.
However, he said it won’t be strange because coaches often end up coaching against players they recruited. Hetherman also noted that there has been significant turnover in UMaine’s personnel since the 2018 season.
He will, however, be part of a divided household. His fiancee, Julie Clifford, is a former Bangor High School diver.
Hetherman said his four years at UMaine were a “great experience” and the 2018 season will always be memorable.
“We had some special seniors, a great coaching staff and a lot of players who were very committed,” Hethermam said.
Current UMaine head coach Nick Charlton was an assistant at the time.
James Madison, picked to win the CAA in the preseason poll, opened with a 68-10 non-conference win over Morehead State.
The Dukes have reached the FCS semifinals in four of the last five seasons. They won the national championship in 2016 and lost in the title game to North Dakota State in 2017 and 2019.
The Dukes were 7-1 this past spring and lost to eventual national champ Sam Houston State in the FCS semifinals.
Among the team’s returnees are All-Americans Perry Agyei-Obese, a running back, and defensive end Mike Greene. They were chosen the CAA’s preseason offensive and defensive players of the year.
Wide receiver Kris Thornton, safety M.J. Hampton and offensive tackle Liam Fornadel were also preseason All-CAA picks, but Fornadel is likely to miss the season after suffering a knee injury against Morehead State.
Hetherman said it will be a competitive game and he was impressed with UMaine’s performance in a 34-24 loss to a good Delaware team.
“If it wasn’t for the fumble, they might have won it,” said Hetherham, referring to wide receiver Devin Young’s fumble out of the end zone which turned the ball over to Delaware. The score was 27-24 at the time.
He said UMaine has a top-notch quarterback in Joe Fagnano and a lot of explosive playmakers that will keep him and his defensive unit busy.
“They have a lot of their offensive line back as well as their big tight end [Shawn Bowman],” Hetherman said. “And they have been together a while now.”
Fagnano threw for 305 yards against Delaware and eight players caught at least two passes, led by Young’s six receptions.
JMU has won the last three meetings and holds a 13-5 edge in the series. James Madison won the last meeting 28-10 in 2017.
JMU will bring an 18-game home winning streak against all opponents into the game.