University of Maine quarterback Derek Robertson competes in a UMaine football game. Credit: Courtesy of UMaine Athletics

Derek Robertson played seven games at quarterback for the University of Maine after starter Joe Fagnano suffered a sprained ankle in 2021.

Fagnano started every game last fall, relegating Robertson back to the bench.

Now that Fagnano has transferred to the University of Connecticut, Robertson has inherited the job, although there will be other candidates to take the snaps from center when UMaine opens training camp in August in preparation for the season-opener at Florida International University on Sept. 2.

Robertson and his Black Bear teammates will complete the spring campaign on Saturday with the annual Jeff Cole Memorial Football Spring Game. It will start at 11 a.m. and will pit the offense against the defense with a points system in place for red zone (from the 20-yard line to the goal line) competition.

Cole was a former UMaine assistant coach who died after a long battle with cancer in 2004.

black bear football spring training

“It’s good to be back out there playing ball,” said Robertson, a senior from Yonkers, New York, who played prep school football at Bridgton Academy in Maine.

“I’m expecting big things from the offense and big things from this team,” Robertson said. “We’ve had a great spring so far and we’re looking to build off it these next few days.”

Robertson threw just one pass last fall after completing 121 of 238 passes for 1,505 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2021. He threw four interceptions. The Black Bears went 4-3 with him as a starter.

“Derek has been great,” said head coach Jordan Stevens. “He is a tremendous leader. He has relationships across the locker room with everybody on the team. His energy is contagious. I’m excited about him as a young man and a player.”

Robertson said he has focused on his leadership skills and communicating positive messages to his teammates.

The quarterback has done a good job stepping into his role, UMaine All Colonial Athletic Association tight end Shawn Bowman said.

“It’s always good to have a quarterback on the field who has been out there in games before. All the receivers, tight ends and running backs build trust with the quarterback,” Bowman said. “We’re all working toward our goals of scoring a lot of points and winning games.”

The Black Bears have new offensive and defensive coordinators this season in Steve Cooper and Jeff Comissiong, respectively, and Stevens and the players have been impressed by them.

“They have done a great job bringing enthusiasm and a level of positivity to our players,” Stevens said. “They have gotten them to really focus in on their assignments.”

Graduate student defensive end Justin Sambu said the coaching staff has brought a lot of energy to spring football.

“Coming off last season, we had to up our energy. We have to make sure it is at an all-time high and ride into the season with it,” said Sambu, who led the Black Bears in sacks last year with 5.5 and was second in tackles for loss with seven.

UMaine went 2-9 overall a year ago, 2-6 in the conference.

Stevens said one of the primary goals for his team in moving forward is having it become the most physical team in the country.

“We have to be. And to do that, you have to practice that way. You have to tackle, you have to block and you have to break tackles. The focus of this spring is those fundamentals,” Stevens said.

The head coach said he has been impressed with his team’s durability.

“That’s a credit to the work they did in the winter in the weight room. They got stronger and bigger and it shows on the field,” Stevens said.

Stevens is hoping to see his team execute efficiently on Saturday and he has earmarked areas he will be watching closely.

black bears’ rebuilding challenges

“I will be looking at our receiver and running back groups on offense. We have a lot of guys competing for playing time there. Everyone has gotten better. I’m excited about the strides they have made,” said the former UMaine All-CAA defensive end from Temple and Mt. Blue High School in Farmington.

“Defensively, I’ll be looking to see them continue to limit the big plays. We did that in our second scrimmage. We want to take it to the next step and get ourselves ready for the season.”

Last fall’s defense allowed 54 plays of 20 yards or more.

“We have to make sure we’re running to the ball and finishing on the quarterback,” Sambu said.

UMaine will have to replace its four leading rushers and two leading receivers.

Tavion Banks, who rushed for 86 yards on 23 carries, and Montigo Moss, who caught 35 passes for 398 yards and a team-high six touchdowns, are the top returning rusher and receiver.

The players are looking forward to the spring game.

“We’re fired up for every practice because we have only 15 opportunities to be out there this spring,” Robertson said. “And we’re obviously excited for the spring game.”