Adrian Otero will be starting at outside linebacker on Saturday night when the University of Maine plays at Georgia Southern. The sophomore gained valuable experience last season as a true freshman. Credit: Larry Mahoney

It is a difficult transition from high school football to Division I. That’s why the vast majority of players spend their first season as a redshirt — practicing with the team but not playing in games.

Adrian Otero was able to get some playing time at linebacker and on special teams last season as a true freshman at the University of Maine.

Now, with preseason All-America linebacker Deshawn Stevens sidelined for the rest of the season with an Achilles tendon tear, Otero has been thrust into a prominent role.

He will be one of UMaine’s starting linebackers in Saturday night’s game against Football Bowl Subdivision team Georgia Southern in Statesboro, Georgia.

He started in place of the suspended Taji Lowe in last Friday’s 42-14 win over Sacred Heart and was involved in four tackles.

Lowe returns to the lineup and will move inside to occupy Stevens’ middle linebacker spot, and Otero will start on the outside.

Otero started one game last season with Lowe and Jaron Grayer sidelined and made six tackles as UMaine upset FBS team Western Kentucky 31-28.

The 6-foot, 235-pound native of Hazelton, Pennsylvania, played in 13 games last season and posted 13 tackles. He made three in the 55-27 Football Championship Subdivision playoff victory over Jacksonville State.

Otero acknowledged that he has big shoes to fill, but he is confident he can do the job.

“It’s going to be a good challenge. It’s a matter of stepping up and doing your job,” Otero said. “We’re always ready. We’re always watching film with the older guys, and they prepare us for all this.”

“He was in the starting lineup last Friday and played great,” UMaine head coach Nick Charlton said. “He played a ton of football. He started against Western Kentucky last year. He’s a pretty seasoned player already.”

Otero, a former all-state player and the defensive player of the year in his district and his conference, feels he has improved a lot since first stepping on the UMaine campus. He said making the travel squad and getting valuable playing time in 2018 helped lay the foundation for his growth.

Now that he is a starter, he fully understands that he has to know his assignments and be able to read his keys.

“He is going to step up for us,” junior linebacker Jaron Grayer said. “I was his host when he visited [the campus]. I saw his tape and talked to him. He had the mindset was that he was going to play. He’s going to be a good, solid guy for three years for us.”

Otero chose UMaine over other schools because of the family atmosphere.

“It felt like home,” Otero said.

Otero said he and the Black Bears have extra incentive Saturday night.

“Losing Deshawn is going to get us more amped up. We’re going to play for him,” Otero said.