ORONO — The season’s first offensive series for the University of Maine football team did not go as scripted.

A six-yard completion to veteran tight end Justin Perillo. A shotgun snap through the hands of new quarterback Marcus Wasilewski. An incompletion on third-and-long to John Ebeling, the backup quarterback turned slot receiver.

On came the punt team. All of them, that is, except for Ebeling, the long snapper, who headed to the sideline after running his pass route.

“This was my first game playing receiver full-time,” said Ebeling, a junior from Mahwah, N.J. “So after Marcus threw me that ball, my first reaction was to go over to Marcus and talk to him about what he saw. I wasn’t thinking that we had to go punt.”

Wasilewski already was on the headphones with offensive coordinator Kevin Bourgoin when Ebeling approached, only to be snapped out of his reverie by yells of “We need you, John!”

Ebeling sprinted back onto the field, where his teammates already were in punt formation, awaiting only the man in the middle.

“We had three seconds left on the (play) clock but I got it off,” Ebeling said. “It definitely won’t happen again.”

After opening with a 34-3 loss to Boston College of the high-powered Atlantic Coast Conference, the Black Bears travel south again to face an opponent on the other side of the spectrum. Bryant University is in its first year of eligibility for the Division I Football Bowl Subdivision playoffs after making the transition from a Division II program.

The Bulldogs are 0-2 after losses to Marist and St. Francis (Pa.). Kickoff is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. in Smithfield, R.I.

“We have to have to the same mind-set preparing for Bryant as we did preparing for Boston College,” Ebeling said. “There can’t be any letdown. They’re still a (FCS) team and anything can happen.”

Ebeling may have finished second in the starting quarterback competition but that doesn’t mean he’ll be strolling the sideline with a headset, a clipboard and no helmet. As one of Maine’s better all-around athletes — voted the team’s best basketball player in a recent informal poll — Ebeling promises to see plenty of action this fall, catching passes, snapping for punts, and tackling punt returners.

“He’s a kid who can do a lot of things for us,” Bourgoin said. “I’m sure he wants to play quarterback, but he’s smart enough, talented enough and athletic enough to play another position.

“We’ve always had a philosophy at Maine that we’re going to play our best 11 players,” he said. “It’s an opportunity for us to get another good football player on the field, a kid who can help us win.”

When Ebeling arrived in Orono in the fall of 2009, he saw Mike Brusko lose his starting quarterback job to Warren Smith, a transfer from Iona, then watched Brusko reinvent himself as a proficient receiver and punter while remaining a team leader.

The transition from thrower to receiver is not that complicated, Ebeling said, at least not mentally.

“When you’re getting yourself ready to play quarterback, you understand all the concepts on the field and what everyone has to be doing to make the play work,” he said. “So going to receiver, I already had an understanding of what my job was on each play, whether it was to make a block or run a route.”

The transition actually began a year ago, when injuries thinned Maine’s receiving corps. Ebeling learned the position and wound up catching a touchdown pass in each of the two playoff games.

All that running and blocking, in both practices and games, does take a physical toll, but Ebeling is adjusting. Bourgoin also loves the calmness Ebeling brings to the offense.

“He can set formations up and communicate what we’re trying to do with alignments and splits,” Bourgoin said. “The leadership from the quarterback standpoint is now also on the perimeter when he’s out there.”

Playing at Bryant has special meaning for Ebeling, who took his first official recruiting visit to the Rhode Island campus. He also visited Georgetown before coming to Orono and subsequently canceling a trip to a fourth school in the Midwest.

Yearly family vacations to Little Lake Sunapee in New Hampshire fostered a love of northern New England, and Ebeling made good use of his non-workout time this summer by driving two hours north of Orono to fish the Penobscot River. Sometimes he’d go alone. Other times, he’d bring Calvert Schaefer, a freshman lineman from Maryland, or someone new to fishing.

Ebeling himself hasn’t attempted fly fishing just yet, but he’s willing to try. Of course, that will have to wait at least until next year. At the moment, his plate is full.

“I like being involved in everything and just helping the team out in any way I can,” he said. “It’s always better to be on the field with your teammates than on the sideline watching.”


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