Andrew Downey built a reputation as an outstanding quarterback and punter at Kingston (N.Y.) High School.

He was an all-county, first-team selection as a sophomore and as a senior, having missed his junior season with a broken collarbone.

Even so, Downey wasn’t at the top of most teams’ lists of quarterback recruits.

He was recruited by the University of Maine, since former Black Bears standout Tom Loughlin (1979-81) was the head coach at Kingston.

UMaine was the only school to offer Downey a scholarship.

“I remember Tommy [Loughlin] telling me how highly he thought about Andrew as a football player and young man,” said UMaine coach Jack Cosgrove, who hasn’t been disappointed.

Downey contributed immediately in 2005, playing in 11 games, mostly on special teams. Ever since, he has been a fixture — at inside linebacker — for the Bears.

“I’m glad they gave me the opportunity, because no other school really did,” Downey said.

“Andrew impressed us a quarterback and athlete,” Cosgrove said of the 6-foot-1, 228-pound senior.

Having overcome a nagging ankle injury suffered during preseason, Downey is rounding into form this season. He’ll be a key defensive cog Saturday night when UMaine travels to Newark, Del., for a Colonial Athletic Association clash.

“I feel like I’ve gotten back into the swing of things,” said Downey, who ranks third on the squad with 33 tackles, despite missing most of the Iowa game because of the ankle.

Downey’s emergence as a defensive star was somewhat unexpected. He didn’t play any defense as a sophomore at Kingston, sat out his junior year with the injury, then played only one full game at linebacker as a senior.

“The rest of the year I played a series or two on defense,” he explained. “My first game starting at linebacker in high school was the Governors Bowl,” an all-star game pitting New York against New Jersey.

Downey was leaning toward attending Trinity-Pawling School in New York in the hope of getting more looks as a quarterback, but UMaine saw plenty of potential in him.

“We might have brought him in here as a quarterback, but we wound up bringing him in as a linebacker,” said Cosgrove, whose staff has been successful recruiting high school quarterbacks and converting them into defensive stars.

“[NFL standouts] Lofa Tatupu, Stephen Cooper, they were high school quarterbacks that ended up here and we projected as having the ability to go to other spots,” Cosgrove explained. “It’s a spot that brings a lot of athletic components to it that makes it easily transferable to other positions.”

In spite of his inexperience on defense, Downey made a successful switch to linebacker.

“The transition from high school football to college football is such a leap mentally,” Downey said. “Even if I had played linebacker in high school, it wouldn’t have made any difference.”

Downey has been a difference-maker for UMaine. He was an all-conference, third-team pick in 2006 and earned second-team honors last fall. In 2007, he ranked third on the team with 78 tackles and was 12th in the CAA (8.7 tackles per game), despite missing two games with an injury.

“The recklessness that’s a part of him and that ability to run from sideline to sideline and make plays has been there for us,” Cosgrove said. “He works to play at a very high level and he has blended his athletic ability with toughness and his passion for the game.”

Downey also handles long-snapper duties for the Bears.

Growing up, basketball was Downey’s first love. His father John played at Westfield State (Mass.), but Andrew eventually gravitated toward football.

He credits his dad, his mother Sydni, his older brother Noal and coach Loughlin with teaching him how to excel both on and off the field.

Downey bragged his dad has never missed one of his games — at any level.

“They were always there for me, always led me in the right direction,” he said.

Downey, who enjoys music and old cars (he owns a 1975 Chevy Nova), plans to take his degree in secondary education and go back to Kingston as a teacher — at least for a while.

In the meantime, his aim is to help UMaine win games.

“The rest of the season’s about us putting a full 60 minutes together,” he said. “I’m very optimistic for the rest of the year.”

Pete Warner

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...