ORONO — Last winter, with graduation from Marist College on the spring horizon, David Toriola considered his options.
He could accept his degree in business with an emphasis on marketing and try to find a decent entry-level job amid an atmosphere of economic uncertainty he viewed as “kind of scary.”
Or, with a remaining season of eligibility because he had red-shirted as a Marist freshman, he could test the football waters outside his school’s non-scholarship Pioneer League campus in Poughkeepsie, N.Y.
He noticed that Maine was graduating its two starting defensive tackles and contacted defensive line coach Dennis Dottin-Carter to see whether the Black Bears might be interested in a 6-foot-3, 290-pound graduate student.
“We figured, hey, we had a need at that position,” Dottin-Carter said. “We should definitely explore it.”
After watching film of Toriola, the Maine staff invited him to Orono. In January. Amid temperatures that dropped 12 degrees below zero.
Toriola, who grew up in Queens, N.Y., loved it.
“Everything about Maine was positive and good energy,” he said. “It was one of my best college visits.”
Maine offered a scholarship and Toriola, now working toward a master’s in liberal arts (a degree not offered by Marist, which is why such a transfer is permissible by the NCAA), will find himself butting helmets with Boston College this afternoon in Chestnut Hill, Mass., before a crowd expected to approach 40,000.
“That’s a pretty big jump, but he’s capable,” Dottin-Carter said. “He’s got the tools and the talent. And it’s not like he’s a freshman. He’s a fifth-year guy who is 22 years old.”
Toriola will play defensive tackle in a rotation likely to include senior Kris Enslen, sophomores Matt Wilson and Devin Clark and junior Alban Dedvujak. Only Enslen has starting experience for Maine.
They’ll be facing a Boston College offensive line that averages 6-foot-6 and 306 pounds — three inches taller and 40 pounds heavier than Maine’s average defensive lineman.
“They’ve got some big boys, but I’ve seen big O-linemen my entire life,” Toriola said. “Size is something that doesn’t really determine the outcome of a game. Individually, it comes down to how bad you want it and how much you’ve prepared.
“And I know I’m prepared very well for this game.”
Dottin-Carter said Toriola is the first graduate student transfer to play for Maine. In recent years, quarterback Warren Smith (from Iona) and defensive tackle Omar Jacobs (from Hofstra) transferred to Orono without having to sit out a season because their schools had dropped football.
“We expected him to be a guy who could come in and win a starting position,” said head coach Jack Cosgrove, “and he’s done that for us.”
Toriola had to earn his job — and learn a new system — in training camp because he missed spring practice while finishing up requirements for his undergraduate degree.
Getting up to speed wasn’t easy. Toriola called it one of the toughest camps he’s ever been through. He battled fatigue and soreness but never doubted his ability to play at this higher level.
“It ended up working out for the best because I’m probably in the best shape I’ve ever been,” he said. “It’s really going to be benefit me on the field.”
At Marist he never played before a crowd larger than the 6,000 or so who watched his rivalry high school game at St. John’s University between his own St. Francis Prep and nearby Holy Cross.
“They’re about a mile from each other,” Toriola said. “We won that game 14-7 and we never let ‘em forget it.”
Today’s game at Boston College might turn out to be equally unforgettable.
“That is going to be exciting,” he said. “I’ve never played in that kind of atmosphere. Hopefully, it works out in my favor. I know I feed off a big crowd and a big spotlight.”