ORONO — Hot? Yes, it was 86 and balmy at Alfond Stadium for the University of Maine’s first practice of training camp Wednesday. But it’s all a matter of perspective.

Max Staver, the transfer student who is competing to be the Black Bears’ starting quarterback, has played in Florida and Texas in his college career. He said this was hot but nothing like Texas.

Max Staver Photo by Kevin Bennett

“The coldest we practiced in was probably 94,” he said, kneeling after practice ended. “And probably 70 percent humidity all the time. And that was at night.”

However hot it felt, the Black Bears were happy to be back playing football.

“The first day every year is the best day,” said Sterling Sheffield, the junior linebacker who was third on the team with 65 tackles last year. “Everybody’s been biding their time. Right now we have to make sure each day is a championship day.”

And again, all eyes will look to the quarterback position, which is again in play.

Strong-armed Dan Collins graduated last year and is now on the Ottawa practice squad in the Canadian Football League. Staver, who transferred to Maine with one year of eligibility after stints at Florida, Houston Baptist and Tyler Junior College, is one of the four players vying for the starting job.

Drew Belcher, who redshirted last year and has two years remaining, has started nine games over his career at Maine. Chris Ferguson is a redshirt freshman who learned the system last year and Isaiah Robinson is a highly regarded freshman from Bowie, Maryland.

Wednesday’s practice was the start of a competition that likely will be decided after the team’s second scrimmage Aug. 14. But those involved can’t think about that.

Drew Belcher Photo by Kevin Bennett

“I just try to be the best version of myself every single day,” said Belcher, who spent all but about 20 days this summer working out in Orono with his receivers. “Try to be great every single day. Try to run the offense. It’s important to be consistent.

“I don’t worry about what anyone else is doing. I just focus on myself and make sure I’m doing my job.”

Staver, who may have the strongest arm of the group, said he was simply glad to be back on the field.

“It’s all about getting back out here and having fun,” he said. “Camp can be such a grind. You’ve got to remember what you’re playing for.”

Joe Harasymiak, Maine’s second-year head coach, has been pretty clear in what it’s going to take to become the starting quarterback. He noted that both Staver and Belcher have won games at the Division I level. Ferguson has improved greatly since last year and Robinson displayed a nice touch Wednesday.

“They all have days when they do well and days when they do bad, coming off the spring,” he said. “So the guy who is most consistent and we see as someone who can lead our team with the best chance to win ultimately will be what decides it.”

Staver and Belcher had their moments in Wednesday’s fast-paced practice, displaying accurate throws and making good reads. But Staver also threw two interceptions, one on a tipped ball. “There’s always one or two plays you want back,” he said.

Liam Coen, Maine’s offensive coordinator, said that’s what training camp is about.

“They were doing some summer throwing, just not the way we do it,” he said. “So it takes a couple of days for them to get back into the swing of things, chemistry-wise, timing-wise, anticipation. That all takes a couple of days.

“But I was happy with the way they ran the offense. For me, that was the most important thing. We’re not playing games for a long time. We’re not really judging them on every single throw. It’s more the overall – How did they run the system? How did the offense move when they were in the game? Those are the kind of things we’re really judging now.”

He said that decisions will be made when the team gets into third-down situations, red-zone situations and scrimmages.

Drew Belcher, who redshirted last season, has started nine games in his career at quarterback with the University of Maine. He has two years of eligibility remaining. Photo by Kevin Bennett

“That’s when we’ll start to say, ‘Hey, this guy is the guy,’ ” said Coen. “Today we’re not saying that.”

Overall the coaches and players were pleased with the first day.

“There’s always room for improvement but we’re heading in the right direction,” said Najee Goode, a senior cornerback. “From spring ball to right now, we’re heading in the right direction.”

Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or:

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