ORONO — There’s a new coaching staff in charge of the University of Maine football team. Rather than bringing question marks for returning players like Lawrence High School graduate Spencer Carey, the new coaches, led by head coach Joe Harasymiak, Maine’s former defensive coordinator, have infused the Black Bears with excitement.

“I love the move. I love Coach H. Having him as head coach is a great fit for the program,” Carey, a junior safety said. “Coach H brings a new culture and a new sense of energy… Seeing their excitement on the sidelines when we make plays makes it a lot easier for us to get excited about it. It’s nice to see how attached they are to (our success).”

Last season, Carey got his first regular taste of playing time. Carey played in all 11 games, starting two, and made 22 tackles, including 12 solo. The 6-foot-2, 208 pound Carey is listed as a free safety on the Black Bears depth chart, but Harasymiak said Carey could also see time at strong safety.

“That’s one of our biggest position battles. There’s probably six guys, him being included, that are vying for one of those spots. In a game, we’re going to need three or four guys,” Harasymiak said. “Cracking the top three, top four, is a goal for all those guys. The benefit for him is, he knows how to play both. He knows how to play some third down package stuff.”

Only corner Sherrod Baltimore graduated from Maine’s secondary. Darrius Hart is back at safety after injuries limited him to one game in 2015. Sophomore Sinmisola Demuren started eight games last season and led the secondary with 34 tackles. Junior Jason Matovu moves to strong safety after making 44 tackles last season.

“The whole secondary, we don’t have a senior. It’s a very interesting group. There’s a lot of guys like Spencer that have started two or three games. They’re all at the same level. If you look at it on paper, you’d go, ‘Oh, they’re young in the secondary.’ As they keep playing, we’re going to have a good group,” Harasymiak said.

Since Carey arrived on campus as a redshirt player in 2013, he’s worked closely with Harasymiak, who was Carey’s position coach before being promoted to defensive coordinator. They even speak the same language when talking about playing safety. In separate interviews on Wednesday, Carey and Harasymiak both described playing the position with the exact same terminology. If you make a mistake playing safety, they both said, “the scoreboard lights up.”

As one of the team’s bigger defensive backs, Carey brings a physical presence to Maine’s secondary. Harasymiak also pointed to Carey’s tackling as a strength.

“One thing about Spencer, he was always a tough kid. There was no doubt about that. Football meant a lot to him,” Harasymiak said. “He’s not afraid of the moment, which is the biggest thing I saw from Spencer.”

Carey saw time on special teams throughout the 2015 season, and started two late season games at safety, against Towson and rival New Hampshire. Against Towson, Carey made nine tackles, including one for a loss on a key third down. The biggest improvement in his game, Carey said, is confidence.

“I got to go on a blitz and go to the backfield. That was a good feeling,” Carey said. “Making plays and proving to yourself that you belong out here (is important). Now it’s just building on top of that, continuing to make plays, and helping this team win games.”

Added Harasymiak: “Any time you start someone for the first time, it’s kind of like, all right, we have to make sure we protect him with the calls. He’s proven himself. He’s a guy who can go in there.”

Carey also will be an important special teams player for the Black Bears. Harasymiak said Carey could start on kickoff, kick return, punt and punt return team. It’s on special teams Harasymiak expects Carey to be a team leader this season.

“He is an older guy now. He’s a Maine kid, which means a lot to our team. The guys on our team respect those guys. He’s just getting better every day,” Harasymiak said. “It’s the mental part of his game that allows him to play so many positions.”

Maine opens the season with back-to-back games against Football Bowl Subdivision opponents, at Connecticut Sept. 1 and at Toledo Sept. 10. After a bye week, the Black Bears play their home opener against James Madison, one of the preseason favorites in the Colonial Athletic Association.

“I think we’re ready for it, though. It’s a good challenge. We’re excited to get going,” Carey said. “It’s good to be back out here with the guys. I’m excited by what we have here, building a new identity with obviously a new coaching staff. I’m excited for what’s coming up.”

• • •

Last season, Mt. Blue High School graduate JT Williams was a redshirt linebacker with the Black Bears. Now in his second season, Williams is making a position change to running back.

“It’s a little different, but everyone’s learning the new offense, so I’m starting where everyone else is starting,” Williams said. “I’m just going to do whatever I can to help the team. If that’s where they think I’m going to be able to help the team the most, I’ll do it.”

Last season, Maine averaged just 3.4 yards per carry. The Black Bears ranked 10th in the 12 team CAA in rushing yards. The addition of Zaire Williams — a transfer from FBS Temple — could help, along with the return of Nigel Bickford, who led the Black Bears with 526 yards rushing last season. A redshirt freshman, the 5-11, 225-pound Williams provides depth in Maine’s new, pro-style offense.

“With JT right now, it’s improving every day. I don’t think anything in terms of starting are on his mind. He just got into the position. He’s only had 15 practices in the running back spot,” Harasymiak said.

When he arrived last season, Williams was concerned with how his teammates would perceive him, a freshman walk-on. He quickly learned if you work hard in practice, your scholarship status doesn’t matter.

“It builds your confidence up, rather than just being intimidated. Building relationships with everybody. Everyone here is working their tail off,” Williams said. “No matter how you got here, everyone worked to get here. We don’t have all the fancy facilities and everything, but the work ethic is what makes us stand out.”

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

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