With a revamped coaching staff and six newcomers, the University of Maine’s football team will begin its spring schedule with its first practice on Friday.
Coach Jordan Stevens had a frustrating first season last fall as his team went 2-9 with five of those losses coming by four points or less. There has been turnover between players who graduated and others who chose to enter the NCAA Division I transfer portal.
Just seven players who started the season-ending 42-41 overtime loss to the University of New Hampshire are back, there are also other players who had been starters that were either backups for that game or missed it due to injury like All-Colonial Athletic Association second team tight end Shawn Bowman.
Stevens, the Temple native and former star at UMaine and Mt. Blue High School in Farmington, outlined his objectives for the spring season in an interview, saying he wants to improve fundamentals and discipline on offense, defense and special teams.
“Everyone is starting fresh. It is a clean slate for everyone,” Stevens said. “We need to come out of spring practice knowing who the starters are and we also need to feel good about the second and third-string guys so we know they can step in as well.”
It is important that a lot of that is decided before fall training camp begins in August, so they can focus on their tough opening game on Saturday, Sept. 2, against Football Bowl Subdivision team Florida International University of Miami.
UMaine is in the Football Championship Subdivision which has 22 fewer scholarships than the FBS schools and doesn’t have the facilities or the financial resources that FBS teams have.
Stevens, a former All-CAA and All-New England defensive end, has four new coaches in offensive coordinator Steve Cooper, defensive coordinator Jeff Comissiong, defensive line coach Umberto DiMeo and tight ends coach Derham Cato.
“We have a really experienced staff who care about the players,” Stevens said. “The coaches are energetic and enthusiastic and that will help our players get better.”
The quarterback position is unsettled. Veteran Joe Fagnano transferred to the University of Connecticut where he will rejoin former UMaine head coach Nick Charlton, who is the offensive coordinator-quarterbacks coach at UConn.
Junior Derek Robertson, who started seven games in the fall of 2021 in place of the injured Fagnano and completed 50.8 percent of his passes for 1,505 yards and 12 touchdowns, will be looking to replace Fagnano, although junior Anthony Harris, sophomore Jack Kelley and redshirt freshman Ayden Pereira will also be competing for the job.
“There is real good competition there. I’m excited about that. All four are doing a great job,” said Stevens, who added that he would also like to solidify his offensive line.
In addition to Fagnano, the list of transfers includes defensive backs Austin Ambush, Jabari Echols and Jamond DuBose; linebacker Xavier Nurse; punter Brian Cooey, defensive end Khairi Manns, wide receiver Tyrese Baptiste, long snapper Charles Eberle and running back Freddie Brock.
The newcomers are transfers Joe Horn (UMass), Alex Berrouet (Colorado) and Damon Matthews (Rutgers) and freshmen Nicholas Kaptein, Xavier Lozowicki and Jayden Platt.
Horn, Kaptein and Lozowicki are 300-plus pound offensive linemen; Platt and Matthews are defensive backs and Berrouet is a running back.
Stevens has spread out the practices this spring so “we can spend more time watching video and correcting our mistakes.”
The annual Pro Day was held on Tuesday at the Gorham Sports Complex and Stevens said scouts from the New England Patriots and Green Bay Packers were on hand to assess the UMaine players who are departing or some who have already departed.
The players participate in a number of drills which and their performances are charted. Pro Day is usually held at the Mahaney Dome on the Orono campus, but it collapsed and hasn’t been fixed.
Stevens said All-CAA second team center Mike Gerace and All-CAA third teamer Zavier Scott, a fullback-slotback-wide receiver, had impressive showings.
The Black Bears will hold 14 practices before concluding the spring schedule with the annual Jeff Cole Memorial Spring Game on Saturday, April 22, at 11 a.m. The game is named after the former UMaine assistant football coach who died of cancer in 2004.