ORONO, Maine — Wednesday was day one on the football field for Jordan Stevens.
The former University of Maine captain and third team All-Colonial Athletic Association defensive end in 2009 was leading his first spring practice on Morse Field in Alfond Stadium.
It was a brisk day with a biting wind but the Temple native embraced it.
Stevens replaced Nick Charlton, who left to become the offensive coordinator at Football Bowl Subdivision the University of Connecticut.
UMaine is a Football Championship Subdivision team, which is one step below the FBS. UMaine wound up 6-5 last season, 4-4 in the CAA.
Stevens had been the assistant head coach/co-defensive coordinator/defensive line coach and pro liaison at Yale University. He had also coached the defensive line and outside linebackers at UMaine from 2011-15 before moving on to Yale.
“It has been great,” said Stevens after the early-morning practice. “There has been a lot of work leading up to this day. The guys have done a great job over the last nine weeks getting to this point.
“It has been great to be out there around the players. We went through a walk-through the other day and it was the first time I have been here in eight years. It was a cool feeling to be back out there. The players have been itching to get out,” he added.
The focus this spring will be for the players to improve their fundamentals and technical skills, he said.
“And we need to improve our depth. We have a number of older guys and then there’s a gap and we have a lot of young guys, too. We want to get a better understanding of who we are and what we are going to do, schematically, on offense and defense. This gives us an opportunity to focus on ourselves,” Stevens said.
Three specific areas he will be monitoring closely will be the secondary line, the defensive line and finding a replacement for All-Colonial Athletic Association wide receiver Andre Miller.
“We need to build up our secondary. A number of guys have graduated or moved on. We need to continue to build depth in our defensive line. And losing a guy like Andre Miller is a big loss but we have a number of guys ready to fill those shoes,” Stevens said.
“Andre was a big piece so we’re looking for a playmaker who can step up,” said veteran quarterback Joe Fagnano, who was limited to four games a year ago due to an ankle injury and finished with 65 completions in 108 passes (60.1 percent) for 794 yards, six touchdowns and two interceptions. “And we need to form a trust on offense. When it’s fourth down in the fourth quarter, we need to know guys are going to do the right thing.”
Fagnano and linebacker Adrian Otero said the transition to the new coach has gone very well.
“[Stevens] has stepped in and done a real good job,” Fagnano said. “There was no ‘Hey, let’s take time off here and get to know each other.’ He came in and we got right to work, right away, and that’s the best way to do it.”
“There are differences [between Stevens and Charlton],” Otero said. “But this coach came in, told us what he wanted and we followed him. It has been really smooth.”
Stevens has stressed maintaining a consistent schedule.
“We want these guys to plan on doing the same things at the same time every day,” explained Stevens. “It is important for them as student-athletes to be able to know where they need to be and when they need to be there. And be ready to work.
“We have been methodical this entire offseason. We haven’t broken stride at all. And we didn’t wait around. We got right into it,” he said.
“I love the process of coaching. Today is the first step of the second phase of our process. Most of our focus had been on training but now we have more of a football mindset. We’re doing football drills and it has been a step in the right direction,” Stevens added.
Otero, the team’s third-leading tackler a year ago with 63 in 11 games, said he wants to take on more of a leadership role and said the spring season is important to develop a brotherhood and family atmosphere.
“We want to compete every day within ourselves and with each other,” Otero said.
The Black Bears will open the season at FBS school New Mexico on Saturday, Sept. 3.