Jaron Grayer Credit: Courtesy of UMaine Athletics

ORONO, Maine — Linebacker Jaron Grayer said last season was a challenging one for him at the University of Maine.

As a redshirt, he didn’t play in any games but was going up against UMaine’s first team offense during practice as part of the scout team.

The majority of first-year players in Division I football are redshirted so they can learn the playbook and get stronger in the weight room without using a year of eligibility. Student-athletes are allowed five years in which to complete four years of eligibility.

“I was a little upset about being redshirted at first,” admitted Grayer, who was a three-sport standout at Steelton-Highspire High School in Pennsylvania. “I didn’t know how to deal with it. I went to a small high school and had played ever since I was a freshman. I never had a sitting-out experience. It was killing me.

“But at the end of the day, I was very glad I did now. I get four years to play and I learned the whole playbook. It is working out for me,” Grayer said.

He added that going up against a top-notch offensive line every day that included All-Colonial Athletic Association tackle Jamil Demby was extremely beneficial.

“I figured if I can do well against them, I can play against anybody in this league,” Grayer said.

That has proven to be true.

He leads the Black Bears in tackles with 25, solo tackles (18) and forced fumbles (2). He is second in tackles for a loss (4) and sacks (2).

“He has done an exceptional job,” UMaine senior wide receiver Jaleel Reed said. “He has meant a lot to us especially after losing [graduated] Christophe Mulumba-Tshimanga. He watches a lot of film. I like watching him on film because he flies around and makes a lot of plays.”

“He is a very intelligent guy,” senior cornerback Najee Goode observed. “If he does something wrong, he fixes it right away and that’s huge on defense. You can’t continuously have bad plays.”

“I always learn from my mistakes,” Grayer said. “I’m big on watching film. I want to make sure I know my opponent inside and out.”

UMaine head coach Joe Harasymiak said Grayer’s football IQ is tremendous.

“That is the usual correlation when they play early,” Harasymiak added.

He said Grayer impressed him when he was on the scout team last year and during the Jeff Cole Memorial Football Scrimmage in Portland.

“He made a lot of plays so you just knew going into the offseason and spring ball and stuff, he would take off,” Harasymiak said. “He’s a guy you don’t have to worry about. You know he’s going to be in the right gap and the right spot. You’ve still got to make plays and he has done so.”

Harasymiak said when they recruit linebackers, they look for instincts.

“You look for them to close the gap quickly on a running back and strike when they tackle,” said Harasymiak, who found those traits in Grayer. “And he was extremely athletic.”

The 6-foot, 224-pound Grayer said recruiting was a struggle.

“I only had about two [scholarship] offers. Delaware State pulled their offer because I took too long to commit,” Grayer said. “Maine wasn’t on my list but they came to my house with an offer. The CAA is big-time football and I enjoyed my visit. I loved the coaches and knew there would be a great atmosphere at Maine.”

Grayer said he has been surprised at his start but noted that, “I’ve worked pretty hard for this. All the hard work in the offseason is showing on the field.”

Grayer returns to Pennsylvania on Saturday when the Black Bears take on CAA rival Villanova. He said the defense must make sure it is alert and able to recognize Villanova’s diverse schemes.

“They run a lot of motion to try to throw us off. We’ll have to be good with our eyes. If we go to the wrong gap, they’ll hit us for a big one,” Grayer said.

He wants to help the Black Bears be a consistent contender in the CAA.

“We’re tired of hearing that we’re good and that we played well at James Madison [28-10 loss]. We want to beat teams like that. To be a contender in this conference, you’ve got to be great and you’ve got to finish games,” Grayer said.

“We’re capable of doing it,” Grayer said. “When teams play us, they think it’s [just] Maine. We want teams to to be scared to come up to play us. We want them to worry when we come to town.”