ORONO — The two leading tacklers for the University of Maine football in last weekend’s season-opener were a pair of first-time starters with international roots stretching across the Atlantic Ocean.

Sophomore rover Cabrinni Goncalves led the Black Bears with 13 tackles, including three for loss and two quarterback sacks, in Maine’s 23-6 non-conference victory over Norfolk State in Virginia.

Red-shirt freshman Christophe Mulumba, taking over the middle linebacker spot manned by Donte Dennis, added seven tackles, a sack and Maine’s only interception.

“I thought they played really well, especially for their first start,” said senior linebacker Troy Eastman. “They were in on a bunch of tackles. They communicated well. They seemed pretty comfortable.”

Next up for the Black Bears is UMass on Saturday afternoon at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. It’s the first of two guaranteed paydays this season for Maine for hitting the road to take on a Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) opponent. UMass this week and Northwestern in two weeks will pay Maine a combined $610,000.

As a Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) school, Maine has fewer scholarships, a smaller coaching staff and a nothing-to-lose attitude. The Black Bears are 1-10 against the bigger bowl-eligible schools, with the lone victory a memorable 9-7 upset of Mississippi State in 2004.

“I’m not going to change anything,” Mulumba said about the prospect of playing an FBS foe on the home field of the New England Patriots. “I’m pretty excited though, I’m not going to lie.”

The original plan was for Westbrook native Troy Bates to move from defensive end to plug the considerable hole left by Dennis, the leading tackler for three of the past four years. A season-ending injury to fellow defensive end Mike Kozlakowski scuttled that plan early in August camp and returned Bates to end.

That opened the way for Mulumba, who was born in the West African country of Congo, moved to Belgium as a baby and to Montreal as a toddler. His first language is French and he played six years of ice hockey before focusing on football, including a two-year stint at a Connecticut prep school.

“I had friends who played hockey and football,” said Mulumba, a chiseled 6-foot-1, 235-pounder whose older brother is half a foot taller and played basketball at Farleigh Dickinson.

“He played soccer, too,” said Eastman, who worked with Mulumba at a UMaine summer hockey camp. “They let us skate on ice the last few days and he was pretty good. The hockey coaches were even impressed with him.”

Head football coach Jack Cosgrove views Mulumba, much of whose redshirt freshman year was spent rehabilitating a knee injury, as a run-stopper first and foremost.

“He’s very physical,” Cosgrove said. “Yet he had that interception Saturday, which speaks to him reading his keys. He honored the run and then got back into his drop zone and was there to make the interception ?on an under-thrown ball.”

Goncalves (pronounced GONE-sahves) is the son of immigrants from Cape Verde, a republic of 10 islands located about 350 miles off the coast of Western Africa. He grew up in Taunton, Mass., not far from Foxborough, and was a recruited walk-on as a running back.

He went through training camp as a freshman, but did not practice with the team during that fall of 2011 and watched home games from the stands with other students. Converted to a defensive back, he played special teams last fall and helped with the scout team before shining in spring practice.

“He ran around so much in a run-support fashion that we thought of him as a linebacker,” Cosgrove said of the 5-10, 207-pound Goncalves. “He got bigger, faster and stronger so we put him in to back up Troy Eastman in the spring, and in doing so, he got our attention.”

Eastman said Goncalves has natural instincts and a knack for finding the football. He’s fast enough to cover wide receivers and strong enough to tackle a fullback. He listens well, studies film and is determined to improve.

“You can diagram a blitz, but there are some guys who just don’t bring it the way they need to,” Cosgrove said. “He does. He brings it with a mental and physical toughness that’s impressive.”