University of Maine redshirt freshman Derek Robertson is embracing his role as the starting quarterback.
He will make his first start on Saturday against Merrimack College as junior Joe Fagnano nurses a high ankle sprain he suffered in the first period of Saturday’s 55-7 loss to No. 3 James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia.
“I’m definitely excited. It feels great. I’ve wanted this my whole life. It’s definitely what I’ve wanted to do since I was a kid, to have this opportunity,” said Robertson after Tuesday’s practice.
He said he is confident in his ability to lead the team and knows the coaching staff will devise a scheme that will accentuate his strengths.
“I’m not as mobile as Joe although I feel I can [run] a little bit,” said the native of Yonkers, New York. “The coaches will have a good game plan for us. I’ll be ready.”
UMaine is 0-2 while non-conference Merrimack from North Andover, Massachusetts, is 2-0 including a stunning 35-21 win over Holy Cross, which had beaten Football Bowl Subdivision team UConn the previous week (38-28). The two face off at home at noon.
The 6-foot-2, 205-pound Robertson completed eight of 22 passes for 88 yards and his first career touchdown, a 22-yard strike to Old Town’s Andre Miller, in the loss to JMU. He was intercepted once and sacked three times.
“It wasn’t my best performance. I’ve got to learn from it and get better,” Robertson said.
Robertson is also likely to start when UMaine visits Football Bowl Subdivision team Northern Illinois on Sept. 25.
High ankle sprains, the injury that has sidelined Fagnano, require a four- to six-week recovery period, head athletic trainer Ryan Taylor said Tuesday.
That would mean the earliest Fagnano could return if all goes well would be the next Colonial Athletic Association game against visiting Elon (North Carolina) on Oct. 9. William and Mary invades Alfond Stadium the following week (Oct. 16).
“Joe is a very tough individual and competitor. He will be out there as soon as he is able to play,” UMaine head coach Nick Charlton said.
Black Bear players feel Robertson can get the job done.
“We have a lot of confidence in Derek,” said senior defensive end Jamehl Wiley. “We know about Derek and what he can do.”
“He prepares just as hard as Joe,” junior tight end Shawn Bowman said. “Both of them throw the ball really well. The offense won’t miss a beat.”
Robertson said he is fortunate to have a talented band of playmakers surrounding him.
“If I can get the ball out there, I know they’ll make a play,” he said.
He intends to watch a lot of film on Merrimack this week and acknowledged that being tested the way he was at JMU against one of the nation’s top Football Championship Subdivision teams was beneficial to his development.
But he pointed out that Merrimack has a great team and they’re coming off a big win so he will have to be at his best.
Robertson saw some playing time last spring during UMaine’s four-game schedule and completed all four passes for 28 yards in a 44-17 loss to Villanova.
Charlton said Robertson had a good training camp and Robertson concurred, but said “I’ve got to build on it.”
When he was at Iona Prep he set the Westchester County record by throwing for 2,774 yards in a season. He also tossed 27 touchdown passes.
He also played at Bridgton Academy before coming to UMaine.
He visited UMaine for the first time on Oct. 12, 2019, during a 24-17 UMaine loss to Richmond.
Ironically, that is the game UMaine starting quarterback Chris Ferguson suffered a season-ending foot injury and true freshman Fagnano would finish the season. Fagnano started the next 12 games until suffering his injury on Saturday.
Robertson said he has a close bond with Fagnano and that Fagnano has helped him ever since he has been here.
He is looking forward to playing in front of his home fans.
“It’s always great to play at home. It’s going to be fun,” he said.