ORONO, Maine — It didn’t take Josh Mack long to make an impact for the University of Maine football team.
As an 18-year-old freshman, the native of Rochester, New York, led the team in rushing with 712 yards on 140 carries — 5.1 yards per carry. He was the Colonial Athletic Conference’s seventh-leading rusher and ranked second among league freshmen.
Mack enjoyed three 100-yard games a year ago and averaged 71.2 yards per game. His efforts included 39 times for 147 yards and a touchdown against Stony Brook.
“He had a great freshman year. He was one of the best freshman football players in the conference,” said University of New Hampshire coach Sean McDonnell.
Mack weighed 190 pounds last season, but with a year of weight training under his belt and plenty of video study to break down his strengths and weaknesses, he is ready to elevate his game this season.
Mack is now 205 pounds.
He expects that to translate into an ability to break more tackles and crank out long runs.
Mack acknowledged that he “barely watched film” in high school but that he has benefitted from film sessions with the UMaine coaches.
“I still thought like a high school running back last season,” explained Mack. “At times, I would bounce outside when I could have split it right down the middle. But I matured as a runner with the help of my coaches.
“Now I like watching film. It shows me where I can improve,” he added.
“We’re looking for him to carry over what he did at the end of last year,” said UMaine head coach Joe Harasymiak. “He has put on weight, his body has improved and we expect him to improve on the little things like pass protection and running more detailed passing routes. He is going to be a big part of our offense. He has put in the work.”
The son of Essie May Spann-Cox and Josh Jerome Mack wasn’t surprised by his success a year ago.
“I was taking a step in the next chapter of my life. It means a lot to me and my family.
“I want to make it to the next level and I trust in my coaches that they’ll get me there,” added Mack, a Hero Sports Football Championship Subdivision Freshman All-America honorable mention last season.
He received an instant shot of confidence in the Black Bears’ season-opening 24-21 loss to Football Bowl Subdivision team Connecticut when he caught a 20-yard touchdown pass from Dan Collins.
“After that touchdown, I said to myself, ‘OK, I’m here now,” said Mack.
“He’s very important to our offense. I expect great things from him,” said UMaine senior wide receiver Jaleel Reed. “He is still coming into his own. He doesn’t know everything he is capable of doing. He still wows us when we watch film.
“He brings it all to the table. You can use him on third down because he can catch the ball out of the backfield. He pass protects,” said Reed.
Mack caught 11 passes for 176 yards and two touchdowns in 2016 and anticipates more receptions this season.
“One of the things that separates me from other backs is my ability to catch the ball,” he said.
Senior tackle Jamil Demby said Mack is the type of back who can make the offensive line look good.
“Sometimes, they’ll blitz us and we won’t be ready for it. But he’ll make a guys miss and then he’s gone,” said Demby. “And he has definitely gotten a lot better.”
Mack was an outstanding athlete in the Rochester suburbs at Pittsford Mendon High School. He was a two-time All-Greater Rochester, all-league and all-county selection was was a USA Today second team all-state pick.
He set single-game rushing records with a 353-yard playoff performance and a 344-yard regular-season showing.
Mack also played basketball and ran track. In 2015, he was the third-ranked long jumper in Section 5.
Mack is looking forward to Thursday’s opener at archrival New Hampshire and having the opportunity to run behind a veteran offensive line that returned four starters.
“I’m excited about the line. The offense has looked great. I think it’s going to be a big year for us,” he said.