ORONO, Maine — Joe Fagnano’s numbers speak for themselves.
Beginning his fourth season as the University of Maine’s starting quarterback, he comes into the campaign having completed 62 percent of his passes for 3,424 yards.
He is 11th on the school’s all-time list for passing yards and is 1,069 behind Bobby Wilder for the 10th spot. He has thrown 31 touchdown passes and been intercepted just six times.
And he has played in only 16 games so far.
Fagnano suffered a high ankle sprain last season that limited him to only four games, returning to the field for the final two games of the regular season to engineer two impressive victories. But while he’s returning healthy this year, Fagnano will have to adapt to a new coaching staff and the loss of his top two receivers last season.
Those late-season wins included a 35-10 victory over Football Bowl Subdivision school UMass — a notch above UMaine, which is in the Football Championship Subdivision — and a 33-20 win over the University of New Hampshire. It was UMaine’s first win in Durham, New Hampshire, since 2001.
With the injury behind him, the 6-foot-3, 225-pound native of Williamsport, Pennsylvania, is looking forward to the season and continuing to get better.
“I’m always trying to improve every part of my game,” said Fagnano following the team’s first official practice on Thursday night.
“I just want to get better day by day. I want to be better than I was yesterday. I want to be the best overall player I can for these guys.”
In his four games last season, he completed 60.2 percent of his throws for 794 yards and six TDs. He was intercepted twice.
He completed 37 of 61 passes for 458 yards and four TDs and no interceptions in the two late-season wins.
Fagnano said his primary focus is on having “better ball placement” with his passes.
“I want to get the ball where it needs to go so the [receiver] can get the most yards he can after the catch,” said Fagnano, an All-CAA second team selection in the COVID 19-shortened spring season last year.
Leading the receiver with a pass means he doesn’t have to break stride and can continue running at top speed after the catch. If a receiver has to stop and come back for the ball, that will limit his ability to gain yards after the reception.
“He looks great,” said graduate student center Mike Gerace. “He looks better and better every time I see him.”
First-year head coach Jordan Stevens said it is nice to have a talented veteran like Fagnano at the helm. It has made his job easier.
“He doesn’t question anything. He just goes full speed ahead,” Stevens said. “He is a terrific leader. He has a great demeanor and that’s what you look for in a quarterback. He never gets too high or too low.”
He called Fagnano a competitor and observed that he “looks to be a great teammate first.”
Fagnano will be without his top two receivers from last season in Devin Young (54 catches, 585 yards, 3 touchdowns) and Andre Miller (39-for-684, 3 touchdowns) and he doesn’t have a wide receiver back who caught more than 13 passes last fall. Returning tight end Shawn Bowman snared 24 balls for 282 yards and running back Freddie Brock hauled in 18 for 137 yards.
But he said he has a “ton of confidence” in his wide receivers.
“The past two years, I’ve been getting reps with them. We have five or six [capable] guys and that’s a good receiver load. Not to mention two tight ends in Shawn Bowman and Cooper Heisey and even Eli [Mahan], who does a nice job when he gets in,” Fagnano said.
“My job is to get the ball to whoever is open,” he added.
Gerace agreed with Fagnano.
“I know there’s a lot of questions about the wide receivers but we trust who we have right now,” Gerace said. “I know our guys are going to make plays.”
Fagnano has been impressed with Stevens and the coaching staff.
“Coach Stevens has done a great job with the transition. He didn’t come in and say ‘we’re going to take things slowly.’ We got right into it and we’ve been full tilt ever since,” Fagnano said. “He realized what we needed to change, what needed to stay and what we needed to do better. And now we’re moving forward.”
The Black Bears won five of their last six games to finish the season at 6-5 overall and 4-4 in the Colonial Athletic Association.
That gave them momentum and confidence to take into this season, Fagnano said.
“That helped a lot. You get confidence, you win the [Brice-Cowell] musket. Guys are energetic and just want to get back out on the field. The players have really gelled together,” Fagnano said.
The Brice-Cowell Musket is awarded to the winner of the UMaine-New Hampshire game every year.
UMaine has eight starters back on offense and seven on defense and Fagnano is optimistic about the campaign even though the team was picked to finish eighth in the preseason poll.
“If we just continue to get better every day, play our game and compete, the wins will follow,” said the quarterback.
UMaine will open the season against FBS team New Mexico on Sept. 3.