ORONO, Maine — Ryan Canary didn’t started playing football until his freshman year at Point Pleasant (N.J.) High School.

When the coaches solicited volunteers to play center, he offered his services.

“I just put my hand up,” recalled Canary who, it turns out, had all the right tools to play the demanding position.

The 6-foot-2, 276-pound senior, who has been a fixture at center for the University of Maine for the last three seasons, will make his 26th consecutive start Saturday when the Black Bears take on No. 2 Richmond in their 3 p.m. Colonial Athletic Association opener at UR Stadium.

“It definitely takes a special person to be an O-lineman,” said Canary, one of two veterans [with Chris Arnao] on UMaine’s offensive front. “We’re not going to get any publicity, but the reason I like it is, I get to hit somebody on every play. I like the physical aspect of the position.”

Canary has helped pave the way for UMaine to finish in the top four in CAA rushing the last two years. His efforts have not gone unnoticed as he was an All-CAA second-team choice last season and an all-league preseason pick this summer.

“He’s got to snap the football every play and then get a block up on somebody,” said UMaine coach Jack Cosgrove. “He’s a real tough, strong, athletic kid.”

The start of Canary’s football career was delayed by four years. He wanted to play at age 10 but couldn’t compete alongside his fifth-grade peers because he exceeded a league weight limit designed to protect players.

That meant he would have to play with older, bigger kids — something his mom didn’t want him to do at the time.

“I always loved football but never had opportunity to play [before high school],” said Canary, who instead continued playing soccer. He views the experience as beneficial in making him a more well-rounded athlete.

“It really helped me get into shape and learn how to run,” said Canary, who signed with UMaine after an all-state football career at Point Pleasant.

He broke into the lineup as a freshman, mostly at guard, alongside former captain and mentor Ben Lazarski. He excelled from the outset.

Canary, who is an Eagle Scout, has been successful because of his strong work ethic and his desire to continue learning the intricacies of the game.

“He prepares his [butt] off watching film, game-planning, trying to soak up as much information as he can every week,” said Bears offensive line coach Frank Giufre. “He’s tough. He works hard.”

He has been a consistent force because of his willingness to put in extra time learning the game.

“I’m never satisfied with how I’m playing,” he said.

Canary said he acquired that drive for excellence from his parents, Roger and Diane.

Being a senior carries with it the responsibility of providing leadership for the younger players. He has set a positive example for freshman Steve Shea and sophomore Matt Barber, who line up alongside him.

“They really respond to us helping them out,” said Canary, who explained proper technique and hand position are critical for linemen. “We have good chemistry right now up front, so we want to keep it up going into this big game against Richmond.”

As the center, Canary has numerous responsibilities. He not only has to deliver the ball quickly and efficiently to the quarterback, he also must alert the rest of the line to the defensive set and the correct blocking scheme for each play.

“Ryan has as much on his plate as anybody on this football team on a play-to-play basis,” Cosgrove said. “He not only handles it, he embraces it.”

Canary has set equally high standards in the classroom. The secondary education major has a cumulative GPA of nearly 3.7.

He said the keys are simple. He goes to class, pays attention, does the reading, turns in his assignments and studies — all while balancing a grueling schedule of football meetings, practices and film work.

“He very much is a guy who demonstrates on a day-to-day basis that being a student-athlete and all the things that go into making a guy a good football player are what he stands for,” Cosgrove said. “Ryan provides leadership with the way he goes about his business.”

Canary said he is contemplating graduate school, with an eye toward a career in psychology or special education. He has enjoyed the UMaine experience as a student-athlete.

“It’s been very rewarding,” he said. “It’s helped me become a better person. I’m very grateful for that.”

Pete graduated from Bangor High School in 1980 and earned a B.S. in Journalism (Advertising) from the University of Maine in 1986. He grew up fishing at his family's camp on Sebago Lake but didn't take...