Alejandro Oregon Credit: Larry Mahoney

When Alejandro Oregon began playing football as a youngster, he said he hated it.

“My parents forced me into it,” he said.

But they had a reason for getting their son involved in football.

They lived in the tough Albany projects in Brooklyn, New York, and they wanted to keep their son out of harm’s way. They didn’t want him getting involved in drugs or gangs, which were prevalent there.

“After that first year, I learned to love the game,” said Oregon, who is a senior defensive tackle at the University of Maine.

“My mom told me my dad put me in it. He had a path for me, and I took that path. He paved a great way. It took me to a place I never expected to be.”

His father, Maynor Oregon, died when Alejandro was 9 years old.

But his mother, Omaira Carrington, kept a close eye on her son and guided him every step of the way.

“She didn’t want me hanging out [at night] because it was dangerous. She had curfews for me,” Oregon said. “It doesn’t matter how big you are compared to other people, it’s still dangerous.

“Football enabled me to avoid all of that,” he added.

At Lincoln High School, Oregon was chosen the City of New York Defensive Player of the Year, was All-Metro, All-City and All-State as well as the All-Borough Defensive Player of the Year.

He said his mother is happy her son is in Orono and away from the dangers of city life. Carrington attends as many home games as she can.

During Tuesday’s practice session in Orono, a deer ran next to the field. Oregon said he sees foxes near his apartment.

“I love the environment up here,” Oregon said.

He said the people at UMaine have made him feel at home and has enjoyed the opportunity to experience a different environment through football.

Oregon was recruited by several schools but had to overcome some academic hurdles before attending UMaine. He said the coaching staff never gave up on him.

“They cared about me. They said they would wait for me. I felt like it was the right place to be,” Oregon said.

He is an unsung hero on the defensive line, coming off a season during which he set career highs in tackles (29), tackles for loss (10) and sacks (3). He also forced a fumble and recovered a fumble.

“He’s very underrated,” senior nose tackle Chuck Mitchell said. “He’s got the quickest hands on the D line. He’s shifty.”

Junior center Chris Mulvey goes up against Oregon in practice.

“He’s a real dominant force. He has made me and the guards better players. He’s more athletic than most kids, and he is sneaky strong,” Mulvey said.

UMaine defensive line coach Kurt Von Bargen said one of Oregon’s strengths is his versatility.

“He can play all four defensive line positions,” Von Bargen said. “He’s really smart, too. He can handle it mentally and physically.”

Oregon, who said he doesn’t care where he plays, started at end but now is a tackle.

“It doesn’t matter to me as long as I can benefit the team and help us get as far as we want to go,” Oregon said.

At 6-foot-2, 270 pounds, he isn’t huge by interior line standards. He said he squatted more than 500 pounds in high school and that has continued to improve at UMaine.

Oregon is looking forward to Friday’s season opener in Orono against Sacred Heart.

“I’m very excited. There’s a lot of energy built up,” he said.

Head coach Nick Charlton said Oregon is a talented player who has made tremendous strides with his maturity.

“He is under the radar, and I like the fact he plays with a chip on his shoulder,” Charlton said. “He’s tough kid who comes from a tough city.”