ORONO — Raibonne Charles didn’t have a luxury that some other college football recruits had.
Instead of being pursued by major Division I and I-AA programs, Charles had to sell himself as a football player. Even to the University of Maine.
Even after he joined the football program as a walk-on, Charles, who is now a senior, had to continue marketing himself, to earn his place on the field and in the dynamic of the program.
“When I got here, I put my head down and worked and worked and worked,” Charles, a defensive lineman from Windham, said Friday at Maine’s football media day. “It felt great once I got the opportunity to start in my redshirt freshman year. I can’t even describe it.
“Having to work for that, and not just coming out of high school and getting a scholarship and having expectations, that was the best feeling.”
Charles is part of a contingent players from Maine high school programs on this year’s Black Bears roster, a list that includes Portland High graduate Chris Treister, a senior who is expected to compete for the No. 1 quarterback job with fellow senior Warren Smith.
But as the reach of the Colonial Athletic Association has grown, as the popularity of football continued to strengthen in hotbeds such as western Pennsylvania and southeastern Virginia, and even with the growth of high school football in Maine, the number of Maine-bred players on the Black Bears roster diminishes each year.
When Maine coach Jack Cosgrove was in his first year as an assistant coach at Maine in 1987, he estimated that Maine’s roster had 40 in-state players. Twenty-four years later, there are 17 in-state players on Maine’s 95-man roster.
“We want the quality of Maine players, but it’s changed a lot,” Cosgrove said. “From when I first got here to now, the football program has escalated, and we’re recruiting more players from Pittsburgh, Ohio, Northern Virginia, Baltimore and Philadelphia. We have to set a standard here. We can’t stock a football team with Maine players. There’s not the volume like there is in other states.”
According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, 4,024 students played 11-man high school football in 82 Maine schools during the 2009-2010 season. It’s a fraction of other states’ 2009-2010 participation numbers: New Jersey had 25,872 students playing high school football at 346 schools, while Maryland had 15,396 at 183 schools and Virginia 25,651 at 301 schools.
The talent pool is deeper in those states than in a smaller state such as Maine, Delaware or Vermont. But, like in Charles’ case, it’s up to some players to market themselves.
“I think the coaches would like to recruit more Maine players, but some of the Maine players need to take it upon themselves to get their film out there,” said Josh Spearin, a sophomore offensive lineman from Bonny Eagle. “I can’t tell you why there aren’t a lot of Maine players here, but it’d be nice to see a few more of them up here. “
John Hardy is a walk-on wide receiver who, like other freshmen, isn’t just learning the ropes of a higher level of football. He’s also learning the ropes of being away from home for the first time and not being the fastest or strongest player on the field.
“In high school, you might be the No. 1 guy at that school, but everyone here is at that level or above it,” said Hardy, a Deering graduate. “Maturity is a big part, and just the fact that you’re playing against guys just like you, it makes it tough for everybody.”
But Charles acknowledges the fact that as a person and a player from Maine there’s a certain standard that comes with being a part of the product of the largest college football program in his home state.
“My motivations are a little different,” Charles said. “Sometimes, when I step on the field, I think of the guy that’s working 11 to 7 over at the mill who didn’t have this opportunity. The guy that’s getting up early and heading into the woods to log. Growing up in this culture and being able to perform for those guys on Saturday? It means a lot.”