PORTLAND — Jack Cosgrove, the head football coach at the University of Maine for nearly 20 years, paused just after he stepped to the podium. He looked at his notes, then out at the room, and smiled.

“It’s football season,” Cosgrove said.

Cosgrove was the last of Maine’s six college football head coaches to speak at Thursday’s kickoff luncheon, and he’ll be the first to get started on the season, when his Black Bears report Sunday to Orono to begin workouts on Monday for the 2011 season.

Joining Cosgrove was Mark Harriman of Bates, Dave Caputi of Bowdoin, Colby’s Ed Mestieri, Sean Murphy of Husson and Maine Maritime Academy’s Chris McKenney. Each took a few minutes to talk about the upcoming season, and some of his team’s top players. August is football’s month of perpetual optimism, before any games are played, and every player is weight room hero.

“You’d like the season to begin next week, and you’d like an extra month to prepare,” Caputi said.

Colby offensive guard John Gilboy listened to each scouting report, and became more eager for the season to start with each word.

“It’s nine months of work, 12 months of work, really, for eight games,” Gilboy, a Thorton Academy graduate, said.

College football fans in Maine have a lot to look forward to this season. Can Gilboy and his Colby teammates improve on back-to-back 4-4 seasons? The Mules will have to do it without their best defensive player from 2010, linebacker Tom Duffy. This was going to be Duffy’s senior season with the Mules, but a string of concussions ended his playing days.

With eight starters back on defense and seven returning on offense, can Bates improve in the New England Small College Athletic Conference. Can Bowdoin build on a season in which a host of young players gained experience, and can the Polar Bears maintain their stranglehold on the Colby-Bates-Bowdoin rivalry?

At Maine Maritime, McKenney must compensate for the graduation of running back Jim Bower, who led all of Division III in rushing yards last season, helping the Mariners lead the nation in rushing as the only Division III team to run for more than 5,000 yards as a team. The Mariners have played in the New England Football Conference championship game for three consecutive years. Is a fourth within reach?

“Trying to top what we did last year will be a tough task,” McKenney said.

At Husson, Murphy is about to embark on his first season as the Eagles’ head coach.

“In our program, the energy level is very high right now,” Murphy said. “I’m thrilled to be in the position that I’m in right now, stepping into a program with lots of potential.”

Husson quarterback Jack Hersom listened to his coach talk about the excitement building at Husson for the upcoming season, and the Lawrence High grad was ready to get to practice.

“We’ve been at it since spring ball,” Hersom said. “Everybody is itching to get back at it.”

Cosgrove and Maine face a schedule that includes not just a string of Football Championship Subdivision title contenders from the Colonial Athletic Association, but Pittsburgh of the Big East.

If this day was only about looking forward to the upcoming football season, it would be a success, but it’s more. Among the attendees were some of the best football coaches Maine has seen. Dick McGee. Pete and Kevin Cooper. Mike Haley. John Wolfgram. Walt Abbott. Tom Austin.

That’s hundreds of years of institutional memory and love for the game, in one place, for a few hours. Gilboy soaked it all in.

“It’s awe inspiring,” Gilboy said.

Years from now, will Gilboy be one of the old men, sharing stories and knowledge of the game?

“I think so,” Gilboy said.

The college season starts when UMaine practices on Monday. A week later, the high schools begin preseason workouts. Cosgrove couldn’t have put it any simpler, or any better.

It’s football season.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

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