ORONO, Maine — When Gunnar Docos showed up on the University of Maine campus in 2016, nothing was guaranteed.
The Harrison native was a nonscholarship player who was hoping he could earn some playing time for the Black Bear football team. Docos, a former standout at Oxford Hills High School in South Paris, weighed 260 pounds, which is light for an offensive lineman at the Division I level, especially a tackle.
Last Thursday night, a 6-foot-5, 300-pound Docos started in UMaine’s 35-7 win over the University of New Hampshire at one of the most important positions on the field: left tackle.
The left tackle is responsible for protecting a right-handed quarterback’s “blind side.”
“He is probably the hardest-working player on the team,” offensive line coach Pat Denecke said. “He got an opportunity and didn’t let it go. We brought in a lot of competition for him with some junior college transfers but he didn’t give that spot up. No one wanted it more than he did.”
The Black Bears racked up 454 total yards against UNH, which was ranked in the top nine nationally, and sophomore quarterback Chris Ferguson was sacked only once while completing 21 of 31 passes for 199 yards.
“To be honest, when he first came, I thought he may never play here,” senior tight end Drew Belcher said. “But he has worked his butt off. He has gotten so much better. His technique is so much better. He has earned this, 100 percent.”
Docos, who is a sophomore, said playing football at UMaine was a goal of his since he was a little kid. He saw limited playing time a year ago after redshirting as a freshman.
“A lot of kids talk about going Division I, but not a lot of kids from Maine get to do it. It’s an honor. I appreciate the coaches giving me a chance up here,” Docos said.
He noted that he has been rewarded with a half-scholarship.
Docos admitted that when he first arrived at UMaine, he wasn’t sure whether he had a legitimate chance to play. Between eating and weight training, he went from 260 pounds to 320 his freshman year.
“Then I cut down to 300. I cut my fat down and tried to get more athletic,” Docos said.
One of the big influences on his development was Football Championship Subdivision All-America left tackle Jamil Demby, who is expected to make his debut for the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams Monday night after being drafted in the sixth round by the Rams earlier this year.
Demby was UMaine’s previous left tackle.
“I looked up to him. He and [former John Bapst High School star] Max Andrews helped me out a lot,” Docos said.
The UNH game will provide him with a lasting memory.
“It was, probably, the best game I’ve ever had. I’ve got to fix some stuff, obviously. Everybody does. But it went pretty well for my first Division I [start],” Docos said.
Black Bears offensive coordinator Nick Charlton said with his size and footwork, Docos has the ability to “block the smaller defensive ends and the heavier ones as well.”
“He earned the job and he backed it up with his play,” Charlton said.
Head coach Joe Harasymiak said Docos exemplifies the traits exhibited by Maine natives who succeed at the Division I level.
“He puts his head down, he works hard and he never says a word. And it means a lot to him,” Harasymiak said.
UMaine visits Football Bowl Subdivision school Western Kentucky on Saturday night.
“I’m looking forward to it,” said Docos who credited his parents and coaches at Oxford Hills for being key influences in his career.
“He came in with the mindset to keep getting better every day and, in three years, the difference is night and day,” Denecke said.
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