ORONO, Maine — Joe Fitzpatrick expected to redshirt last fall during his first season with the University of Maine’s football team.
But when injuries mounted to Black Bear tailbacks, North Yarmouth’s Fitzpatrick was called into action and he delivered to the tune of 68 yards on seven carries in a 39-7 Colonial Athletic Association win over Albany.
He rattled off runs of 25 and 22 yards.
The former Cheverus High School of Portland star finished the season with 10 carries for 68 yards, one reception for three yards and four kickoff returns for 53 yards.
Unfortunately, that meant he used up a year of eligibility. If he had just practiced with the team and hadn’t played in games, he would have been a redshirt and still would have four years of eligibility remaining.
“I sort of thought a redshirt would be a good fit because I would be bigger, stronger and faster this year and I would have gotten to know the playbook,” Fitzpatrick said. “But I wasn’t disappointed because everybody wants to play no matter what. It opened up some doors for me. It was a positive thing.
“That was a fun game. I felt good going into the Albany game. The offensive line was amazing that game,” he added.
Fitzpatrick, who rushed for 2,071 yards and 27 touchdowns his senior year at Cheverus and had five games with at least 250 rushing yards, is looking for more playing time this season under first-year head coach Joe Harasymiak and a new offensive playbook.
The 5-foot-10, 215-pound Fitzpatrick said his primary area of focus this season is “understanding the whole scheme” of the offense.
“Last year, I focused on my game and what I had to do on a certain play. But I want to be a better all-around player, so I need to understand what the defense is doing and what affect it has on the offensive line and the blocking scheme. I want to really get into the details of the offensive game plan,” he said.
He said the new offensive scheme employed by Harasymiak and offensive coordinator Liam Coen will be easier for him to adapt to “because it is similar to what we did at Cheverus. That will help me out a lot.
“We’ll be using a fullback [at times], we’ll run the power ‘I’ and some sweeps,” said Fitzpatrick, who will play in Saturday’s 4 p.m. scrimmage at Morse Field in Alfond Stadium on the Orono campus.
“This offense will fit him better than last year’s,” Harasymiak said. “There’s more two-back formations and gap [blocking] scheme type of stuff.”
Harasymiak said all of the tailbacks will get a chance to prove themselves and said he will need at least three tailbacks to be ready because of the “pounding” they sustain over the course of a game and season.
“He’s a very good back,” Maine senior linebacker Christophe Mulumba Tshimanga said. “He’s a strong kid, and he runs very hard.”
Senior quarterback Dan Collins said Fitzpatrick gave the team a “spark” against Albany and “the whole team rallied around him. He was a young guy who played like a veteran. He put his head down and ran people over. I’m sure the game will slow down a little for him this year, and he’ll run the ball a little more. He’s a Maine guy and the crowd loves him.”
Fitzpatrick will have a role in the offense, Coen said.
“One thing about Joe is he can catch the ball out of the backfield. He can do a couple of things for us,” Coen said. “We just need Joe to work on being explosive with the ball in his hands. We’re looking for guys who can score touchdowns.”
Fitzpatrick, a finalist for the Fitzpatrick Trophy given to the state’s top high school senior, had a productive spring before suffering a minor knee injury late in the spring. He said the knee is now fine, and he’s ready to go.
“I’m really excited,” said Fitzpatrick, who added that he takes a lot of pride being from the state and playing for the state university.
“We have a lot of good backs coming back and, with this offense, I think we’ll be able to get a lot of touchdowns on the ground. We’re going to be explosive.”