First-year University of Maine football coach Jordan Stevens is looking for his team to rubberstamp its “identity” on Saturday.
The UMaine offense will take on the defense at the annual Jeff Cole Memorial Spring Football Game, which will cap the spring football season. It begins at 11:30 a.m. at Morse Field in Alfond Stadium.
“I’m excited to see the players take the next step as a team,” Stevens said. “I want to see us improve our overall execution on both sides of the ball. Above all, I want to see a physical scrimmage. I want our guys to be aggressive and play with energy. I want to see our identity come through.”
He also said he wants his team to continue developing its cohesion and desire to play for each other.
There will be a red zone competition between the two units with the defense accruing points if it limits the offense to a field goal or prevents it from scoring. The offense will score points the traditional way.
The game is named after the former UMaine assistant football coach who died of cancer in 2004. It marks the end of the 15-day spring season, which began on March 30 with 12 practices and three scrimmages.
This will be the third scrimmage and Stevens said it will involve 85 plays.
Stevens has been pleased with his players so far.
“There are a lot of really good high-character players here. I’ve been able to build relationships with a lot of them. We’ve all spent a lot of time around each other,” Stevens said.
“We have been really methodical in our process. We have stuck to it and we get after it every single day,” said the Temple native and former All-Colonial Athletic Association third team defensive end and former Mt. Blue High School of Farmington standout.
Stevens said a number of players have had productive springs.
Headlining the list is senior linebacker Brian Lee Jr., who had 36 tackles last fall.
“He has done a terrific job. He has been able to cover the entire field against the run and the pass. He has had a ton of reps [plays] and has really done well with everything we’ve given him,” said Stevens.
Redshirt freshman Tyrese Baptiste and newcomer Rohan Jones, who came to UMaine at the outset of the second semester, have been impressive as wide receivers and the Black Bears will have to replace its two leading receivers in Devin Young and Andre Miller. Junior Jamie Lamson and graduate student Jacob Hennie have also been solid.
Senior tight end Shawn Bowman, who had 24 catches for 282 yards and four touchdowns in the fall, has had a “real good spring” according to Stevens, as have graduate student center Mike Gerace and senior guard Matthias Staalsoe, who will anchor the offensive line.
Sophomores Shakur Smalls and Kahzir “Buggs” Brown have been stellar in the secondary, according to Stevens, and Western Carolina transfer Aaron Gethers has also looked good.
Smalls, a safety, was the team’s fifth leading tackler last season with 53 and he also had two interceptions. Brown, a cornerback, had 23 tackles and a team-leading three interceptions.
Senior linebacker Adrian Otero, the team’s third-leading tackler with 63, has also shone.
Leading rusher Freddie Brock (132 carries, 720 yards) has been out with an ankle injury he suffered in the fall but Stevens has liked what he has seen from junior Tavion Banks, who had 17 carries for 47 yards last season.
Brock is expected to be ready this fall.
UMaine will have to replace placekicker Jonny Messina and redshirt freshman Cole Baker has done a nice job, said Stevens.
Senior Brian Cooey was punter David Gelb’s back-up and punted 13 times for an average of 36.69 yards last fall. Cooey has also looked good, according to Stevens.
UMaine went 6-5 last fall, 4-4 in the Colonial Athletic Association, and will open the 2022 campaign against Football Bowl Subdivision team the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque on Saturday, Sept. 3.
UMaine’s home opener will be the following Saturday against fellow Football Championship Subdivision team Colgate University.