University of Maine defensive tackle Raffaele Salamone carries the State of Maine flag onto the field before a UMaine football game at Alfond Stadium in Orono, Maine. Credit: Seth Poplaski / UMaine Athletics

University of Maine defensive tackle Raffaele Salamone played in just three games during his first four seasons in Orono.

The Portland native and former Deering High School star played so little that he thought about transferring after the 2019 season.

He realized that there were players ahead of him on the depth chart who were graduating, and that his marine biology major made transferring difficult because it’s not widely offered.

So he stayed, kept working hard and is now being rewarded for it.

Salamone has stepped up to become a starter this year during his sixth season. After three games, he is tied for third on the team in tackles with 17, including one tackle for lost yards. He had 16 tackles in 10 games last fall.

First-year head coach Jordan Stevens said Salamone’s perseverance and loyalty to UMaine is rare these days.

“It’s not something you see a lot of right now across college football. He committed to the process of getting better. He went through some coaching changes as well but he stuck with it. He has been great,” Stevens said.

Stevens added that the coaching staff has challenged Salamone to take on more of a leadership role.

“We’ve been pleased with his development,” Stevens said.

Graduate-student center Mike Gerace said when he first came to UMaine in 2018, Salamone was “little Raffaele.”

“It’s crazy to see how much he has grown physically, in the weight room and on the field,” said Gerace, who noted that Salamone has rung up some impressive numbers in the weight room.

Salamone’s technique, including his use of his hands to ward off blockers, has improved dramatically, according to Gerace.

“He knows how to anchor better. He knows how to do everything a lot better now,” Gerace said.

Salamone is 6-foot-3 but he only weighs 260 pounds and that usually leaves him significantly outweighed by the offensive linemen he is up against.

For example, Colgate — UMaine’s most recent opponent — had offensive tackles who weighed 295 and 305 pounds.

“My pad leverage and my technique have to be great,” Salamone said of the size discrepancy. “I have been able to get off blocks and get to the ball quicker. I have been able to make more plays around the ball.”

Stevens credited Salamone with developing his fundamentals, which enables the veteran to hold his ground despite being undersized.

Division I football was a significant adjustment from Deering High School, where Salamone was the defensive runner up for the Frank J. Gaziano Memorial Award, given annually to the state’s best offensive and defensive lineman.

He received a partial scholarship to UMaine but has since been upgraded to a full scholarship.

Salamone said he came to UMaine because he liked the coaching staff and because it was close enough to home for his parents to attend nearly every game.

“I like to call him a true Mainer,” Gerace said. “This is his home state and he wants to be able to put on a show for his home state.”

With his marine biology degree in hand, Salamone is working toward his MBA.

He intends to work with his uncle in seafood sales.

The Black Bears are 0-3 and will open Colonial Athletic Association play against 2-2 Villanova on Saturday at 1 p.m. at Alfond Stadium in Orono. Preseason CAA favorite Villanova is 0-1 in conference play.

“We aren’t where we want to be but, with conference play, everything is still ahead of us,” Salamone said. “With each game, we’re getting better and better as a group. We aren’t putting our heads down and feeling sorry for ourselves. This is a new opportunity for us to go out and show what we can do.”