ORONO, Maine — Jon Pirruccello has plenty of reasons to be fired up about Saturday’s noon Colonial Athletic Association football showdown against New Hampshire at Alfond Stadium.
The University of Maine senior was recruited by UNH, which eventually told him he might not be big enough or fast enough to play for the Wildcats.
Even more so, the defensive tackle from Turner is determined to help the Black Bears beat UNH, regain the Brice-Cowell Musket — the spoils of the traditional rivalry — win the Colonial Athletic Association North title and earn a spot in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs.
“It feels good to finally get some wins under our belt and keep the [winning] streak alive,” Pirruccello said. “Hopefully we can keep building and go and lay it all out on the line against UNH and get the musket.”
Pirruccello has UMaine roots as two of his grandparents graduated from the school. One of his grandfathers grew up in a house that occupied the site on College Avenue where Alfond Arena now stands — a stone’s throw from Morse Field, where he’ll play Saturday in the biggest game of his life.
“It has kind of been building up all week,” Pirruccello said of the excitement about the game.
Pirruccello has proven he is big enough and fast enough. The 6-foot-3, 250-pounder has started 22 straight games at defensive tackle after beginning his career at defensive end.
“We don’t have big kids on our defense, but we’re fortunate that we have big performers,” said UMaine head coach Jack Cosgrove. “‘Pooch’ plays a lot bigger than he is.”
Pirruccello, who Cosgrove called “a huge, physical force,” has been in on 34 tackles, three for a loss, with a forced fumble and a fumble recovery this fall. He learned the position from New York Jets end Mike DeVito and Bruno Dorismond.
While giving away 30-50 pounds to many of the offensive linemen he takes on, Pirruccello must rely on other qualities to make plays.
“I really have to use my hands effectively because I’m a little undersized,” he said. “I’ve focused on technique and footwork. “I usually measure [my success] in the overall effectiveness of the defense”
Personal statistics don’t tell the story for the members of the defensive line, whose job it is to set up tackles for the linebackers and defensive backs.
“Pooch and [end] Jordan Stevens do a lot of the dirty work,” said Cosgrove, who explained Pirruccello made a smooth transition coming out of Leavitt High School. He spent his first two seasons at UMaine as a defensive end.
“You don’t play [as a freshman] at a position like that coming out of high school if you’re undersized unless you’re good and you’ve got a good handle on the fundamentals and techniques,” Cosgrove said. “He’s a master technician.”
While his academic achievements made him a candidate to attend the likes of Bates, Bowdoin and Colby colleges, Pirruccello instead embraced the Division I challenge. It has tested his resolve and his organizational skills.
“I learned to balance it all out pretty well,” he said. “I wanted to put a heavy emphasis on my grades and try to maintain a pretty high GPA [grade point average].”
Pirruccello has excelled in the classroom. The biology major on Thursday received his acceptance letter from the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences.
He has received some good experience working with former UMaine lineman Dave Ingalls at Miller Drug in Bangor.
“Jon’s a great student. He’s really driven in that regard,” Cosgrove said. “It’s a great source of pride for him to be recognized, as he has been, as a student-athlete.”
Pirruccello said Saturday’s quest is a simple one.
“I’ve never been on a team that beat UNH,” he said. “It’s just a matter of getting the musket back.”