University of Maine redshirt freshman wide receiver Devin Young (2) pulls away from senior defensive back Josh Huffman (4) during a drill at Wednesday's first practice for the University of Maine football team at Morse Field in Orono's Alfond Stadium. UMaine will open the season against rival the University of New Hampshire Thursday night, Aug. 30. Credit: Gabor Degre

ORONO, Maine — University of Maine interim athletic director Jim Settele called it “healing through football.”

The University of Maine football team took the field for its first official practice Wednesday, eight days after defensive back Darius Minor collapsed and died during a light freshman workout on Morse Field.

The players and coaches on Wednesday morning walked down to the Newman Center on College Avenue to attend a memorial service for Minor.

[Cause of death for UMaine football player remains unknown as team opens training camp]

“The best way they can respect Darius is come out here, play hard and live his dream,” Settele said. “The service was part of the healing process. It reopens the wound a little bit, but that’s part of the process of making it even stronger.”

“It’s a tough time, but we’re getting through this as a team, as a family. It helps ease the pain,” junior defensive end Kayon Whitaker said after a 2 1/2-hour practice.

The coaches and players said it was important to get back on the field.

“This is definitely what we needed. This past week has been pretty hard on us, so being able to come out here and do what we love … being able to keep Darius on our mind but, at the same time, keep our minds busy (was important),” said junior cornerback Manny Patterson, who helped “coach him up” during the 2 1/2 weeks Minor was in Orono.

Minor also played cornerback.

“He was a real good kid,” said Patterson, who added the upperclassmen “have to stay strong” to help their teammates through it.

Patterson said he has had to deal with loss before as both of his great-grandmothers passed away.

“You have to deal with loss the best way that you can. You can’t let the loss that you’ve had stop you from doing something that you love. They would want you to keep going hard,” Patterson said.

“His loss weighs heavy on my mind. He was so young (18 years old). He was going through what we all went through,” Patterson added. “You wonder why did this happen to him? Why didn’t it happen to me? There are so many questions going through your head, so to come out and perform today was a great relief.”

[Darius Minor fought back after injury to earn UMaine scholarship before his death]

The players said they will keep Minor in their memory throughout the season and will dedicate the season to him.

“When you have a tragedy like this happen to your team, it makes us focus more,” Whitaker said. “You can’t take anything for granted. We’re going to give our all in everything we do for him.”

“We are going to keep him with us in every game,” sophomore quarterback Chris Ferguson said. “We have to trust in God and believe in what he is doing. It’s sad but we have to get through it.”

Head coach Joe Harasymiak and defensive backs coach Matt Birkett attended Minor’s funeral in Virginia, so offensive coordinator Nick Charlton and defensive coordinator coach Corey Hetherman ran the practice.

“I really like how the guys responded. They came out with a lot of energy. They came out ready to work. You have to move on the best you can while still honoring Darius. We have to do our jobs and play this season and, even though I can’t speak for him, I think that’s what Darius would have wanted,” Charlton said. “I was very proud of these kids, these men.”

Senior defensive back Jeffrey DeVaughn was one of the people who addressed the crowd at the memorial service, and drew praise from Hetherman and the players for his speech.

“Jeffrey is unbelievable in everything he does,” Hetherman said. “He did a great job. He is prepared for everything. That’s the type of kid he is. He’s a great leader that our kids follow.”

“He touched a lot of people. We knew how close he was to him,” Whitaker said of DeVaughn’s speech.

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