The University of Maine football team won the Colonial Athletic Association championship and reached the Football Championship Subdivision semifinals for the first time in program history last fall.
That resulted in a record turnout of 12 National Football League scouts at Friday morning’s annual pro day.
“When you have a winning season and make a playoff run, people notice you and want to come to see you,” said offensive tackle Cody Levy, one of seven players who performed a variety of drills for the scouts in an attempt to earn a shot at playing at the next level.
Those drills included the vertical leap, 40-yard dash, broad jump and bench press.
Other UMaine products participating were linebacker Sterling Sheffield, wide receiver Micah Wright, safeties Jeff DeVaughn and Darrius Hart, tight end Drew Belcher, and offensive lineman John Reddington, who graduated in 2018.
The players had been preparing for several weeks.
“We knew exactly what to expect. We have done multiple walkthroughs,” Belcher said. “Going through all the drills and exerting all your energy in each drill was pretty tiring.”
“I’ve been working on my conditioning the past two months, getting leaner and faster. I got a little tired toward the end today but it was a good workout,” said Sheffield, who was a FCS All-American first-team choice and an first-team All-CAA selection last season.
Sheffield, who in January played in the NFLPA’s prestigious Collegiate Bowl at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, said the scouts told him they were impressed with how hard he worked and how he performed in the drills, especially for someone his size.
Sheffield stands 6-foot-2 and weighs 225 pounds which makes him a “’tweener” in the eyes of the scouts, he said.
He’s too small right now to be a linebacker and not quite fast enough to be a safety.
“I just want to be able to make a team. It doesn’t matter to me where I play. I’ll play special teams. I just want to be on the field playing the sport I love,” Sheffield said.
“If you want to make a team, you have to play on special teams,” Wright said.
Levy said he didn’t put up the numbers he wanted Friday but is not going to beat himself up over it. He said the key to landing on a roster is executing the proper techniques.
“You will be going up against the best athletes in the world, so you have to have perfect fundamentals all the time,” Levy said. “You have to understand what is going to happen and put yourself in the right spots.”
Former UMaine All-America offensive tackle Jamil Demby, who earned a Los Angeles Rams roster spot as a rookie last season, was on hand to cheer on his former teammates and lend them advice.
“He just told me to keep my head down, keep working and keep grinding,” Sheffield said.
Several UMaine teammates and other friends also were on hand to cheer them on.
“It was tremendous,” Wright said. “They’re calling your name out, encouraging you. It’s definitely an advantage.”
The players admitted the sessions were nerve-racking. Wright said he awoke in the middle of the night, and it took him an hour to get back to sleep.
“If you have a slip-up, you can’t let it affect your whole day. It’s similar if you make a bad play in a game. You have to keep going,” Belcher said.
The players said the coaching staff and the environment at UMaine prepares them well for pro football, and that’s why so many former Black Bears have played in the NFL.
That list includes Pat Ricard, Stephen Cooper, Lofa Tatupu and Montell Owens. Several more are playing in other pro leagues such as the Canadian Football League including Edmonton linebacker Christophe Mulumba-Tshimanga and Ottawa defensive back Sherrod Baltimore, who played in the Grey Cup [championship game] against Calgary last season.
“We’re well prepared. We don’t cut corners here. We do everything the right way. The coaches do a great job preparing us,” Levy said.
UMaine first-year head coach Nick Charlton said the staff wants players to be able to continue playing after college if they can.
“That’s a big part of our selling point [to recruits]. We have a really strong NFL history,” Charlton said. “This is the strongest interest we’ve ever had [from scouts], and we want it this way in the future. That’s part of this program, being able to take the next step.”