University of Maine sophomore offensive lineman David Gross of Orland, Maine. Credit: Courtesy of UMaine Athletics

When Orland’s David Gross first stepped foot on the Orono campus, he was at the bottom of the pecking order.

“I was 18th out of 19 on the depth chart,” said Gross, a sophomore offensive lineman who can play left and right guard as well as center.

Gross played his high school football at Bucksport High School, a highly successful but small Class D program.

“I saw that I could do one of two things: I could put my head down and work hard or just mope around and cry about it,” Gross said. “But I trusted the process, I trusted God and I trusted my family. So I stuck it out.”

It’s paid off.

The 6-foot-2, 315-pound Gross has already seen action in four games for the University of Maine’s football team and is listed as the starting right guard and back-up center for the 16th annual Jeff Cole Memorial Spring Football Game at Morse Field in Alfond Stadium on Saturday at 11:30 a.m.

University of Maine sophomore offensive lineman David Gross of Orland, Maine.

“You have to put your head down and work. A lot of kids from Maine struggle up here because they were the best guys on their high school teams so they didn’t feel they had to work hard or lift weights every day,” Gross said.

“But that’s not how it works at this level.”

Senior quarterback Joe Fagnano said Gross has improved a “ton” and that his work ethic has been a key to his improvement.

“He has done a terrific job since I got here,” added first-year head coach Jordan Stevens. “He has really developed from a strength standpoint, he is flexible and he plays with a great base.”

Stevens said Gross’ versatility is also an asset because he can either guard spot or center.

“Those are great spots for him because of his build,” added Stevens, who noted that Gross has put himself in a good position to earn a lot of playing time this fall.

“Coming from a small school, you have to be versatile in order to get on the field. You have to be able to play a number of positions. I have to be that Swiss Army knife,” said Gross, who was a two-way tackle in high school.

Gross won virtually every award possible in high school, including the state’s prestigious Gaziano Offensive Lineman of the Year Award and the LTC’s Bob Carmichael Defensive Lineman of the Year and George “Toogie” McKay Offensive Lineman of the Year awards, winning the latter two twice each.

After undergoing his second knee surgery his senior year — he had his first one his sophomore year at Bucksport — and then having to deal with COVD-19, he was 355 pounds when he first came to UMaine.

He has dropped 40 pounds and has flourished thanks to the year-round training regimen, which includes early-morning workouts, and the positive football culture at UMaine.

His community, family and friends have played a vital role in his development. Gross also thinks the world of the coaching staff and his teammates.

“I go home to Orland every other Sunday for a home-cooked meal and I’ll usually bring a couple [teammates] down with me,” he said.

He remembers going to UMaine games when he was a youngster and watching “whole stands full of crazy Maine fans” and he said having a first-year head coach who is from the state — Temple to be exact — will fuel the excitement around the program. It has already enhanced his love of the game, he said.

“I’ve talked to a lot of high school kids and they’re excited about coming to watch our games this season. That’s pretty cool. And it motivates me even more,” said Gross.

Gross is looking forward to the Cole Game, which will pit the offense against the defense. He will have a lot of family members on hand and he wants to impress them.

“It’s going to be a huge game for him,” Stevens said. “We’ll get to see where he can get to. He has had a great spring so far.”

The two-time high school wrestling state champion is happy with his career at UMaine so far but not satisfied.

“The next step for me is to try to solidify my spot on this team and to become an important player,” said Gross.

“I’m going to do whatever my job is, to the best of my ability.”