Members of the University of Maine football team, including defensive lineman Josh Lezin (5), run a drill during the team's first practice of the year in August 2022. Credit: Sophia Santamaria / UMaine Athletics

During his senior season at the University of Maine in 2009, defensive end Jordan Stevens registered 10 sacks en route to earning third team All-Colonial Athletic Association honors.

That is just two fewer sacks than the entire UMaine team recorded in 11 games last season.

UMaine went 6-5 overall, 4-4 in the CAA.

Stevens is now the first-year head coach at UMaine, and the former Mt. Blue High School of Farmington standout knows his defensive line is going to have to be more dominant if the Black Bears are going to contend for a postseason berth. UMaine was among the lowest-ranked Football Championship Subdivision schools in several defensive statistics last season.

“That has been a focus since the start of spring ball,” said Stevens, who replaced the departed Nick Charlton on Dec. 7.

Stevens, a Temple native, has an impressive track record when it comes to coaching a defense.

As the co-defensive coordinator at Yale University last season, his Bulldogs had the best third down-conversion efficiency rate among 123 Football Championship Subdivision schools, limiting opponents to a 22.1 percent success rate.

It averaged 3.2 sacks per game, which was ninth best compared with UMaine’s 1.09, which was tied for 115th.

UMaine’s lack of a pass rush enabled opposing quarterbacks to complete 59.1 percent of their passes.

Yale’s run defense was 21st, allowing 117.1 yards per game compared with UMaine’s 161.4, which was 73rd.

Yale’s defense allowed 60 total yards per game less than UMaine’s, 326.9 compared with 386.9.

There will be plenty of experience on the defensive line, with all four starters returning.

All four starters will return to UMaine’s defensive line, including graduate student Jamehl Wiley, who has played 34 games for the Black Bears; senior Josh Lezin (31 games); senior Justin Sambu (18 games); and junior Khairi Manns (15 games).

“We do have guys who have experience. The experience is there. Fundamentally, we’re really focusing on the things we need to do to be relentless on the pass rush and against the run game as well,” Stevens said.

Wiley, a captain last season, was limited to five games by an ankle injury but is healthy.

“He has that leadership, that consistent attitude every day. It’s good to see him come in and provide some consistency off the edge [as a defensive end],” Stevens said.

The 6-2, 255-pound Wiley, who is from New Castle, Delaware, has been involved in 98 tackles in his 34 career games and had four sacks in 2019. He had 16 tackles in his five games last fall.

“We have definitely improved over the summer,” said the 6-foot-1, 290-pound Lezin, a native of Jackson, New Jersey. “[Defensive line coach Bryan Anthony Murray] and Coach Stevens have been showing us different techniques that will help us get more pressure on the quarterback this year. That’s definitely going to be a big thing we do. Our pass rush will be improved.”

Sambu, a 6-4, 265-pound native of Calgary, Alberta, had 21 tackles in eight games last fall.

“We’ve been working on our pass rush like crazy,” Sambu said. “We come out in practice and make sure we’re staying low. We’re really aggressively and physically focusing on that stuff. We’re 100 percent better than last year.”

Manns, a 6-3, 230-pound native of New Rochelle, New York, had a breakthrough 2021 season.

He had 42 tackles in 11 games in the fall and tied for the team lead in sacks with three after posting 23 tackles in the abbreviated four-game spring schedule.

“I’m really proud of the players and the coaches and how they have come together, building on our standards and our culture,” Stevens said about the Black Bears preseason camp. “I’m excited how we’ve grown over the last three weeks. I’m looking forward to getting going this week.”

UMaine will open the season on Saturday night against Football Bowl Subdivision team New Mexico in Albuquerque beginning at 8 p.m.

The Lobos were 3-9 a year ago, 1-7 in the Mountain West Conference.