Jamal Clay and Khari Al-Mateen would like to continue the University of Maine’s reputation as a safety school.

After all, their two predecessors — Trevor Coston and Jerron McMillian — played that position with aplomb for three seasons before receiving invitations to continue their careers in the National Football League.

McMillian, a fourth-round pick of the Packers, stuck. Coston, a non-drafted free agent with the Bears, did not.

Either way, they left big shoes to fill in the Maine secondary, and Al-Mateen, a sophomore strong safety from Baltimore, and Clay, a junior free safety from New Jersey, are up for the challenge.

“They’re like our big brothers,” Clay said. “We got a chance to learn from them.”

Clay played sparingly in last weekend’s 28-21 loss to New Hampshire after suffering a concussion in the first quarter of the Towson loss two weeks ago. He said he expects to be back in the starting lineup Saturday when the Black Bears visit William & Mary in Williamsburg, Va.

Both teams are 2-5 overall and are 1-3 within the Colonial Athletic Association.

The new guys said they still keep in touch with the old guys.

“They give their little pieces of advice,” Al-Mateen said. “They kind of know that since they’re gone, they’ve got to let (us) learn just as they had to learn on their own.”

The past two years were something of an apprenticeship for Clay and Al-Mateen, both in practice and on those obvious passing downs when Maine sent five or six defensive backs into the game.

“The best thing about it,” Al-Mateen said, “was that whenever I messed up, I could go to them and they’d tell me what I did wrong. Now it’s like I’m on my own, flying out of the nest.”

Al-Mateen is second on the team in tackles to linebacker Donte Dennis, with 49. Clay and veteran cornerback Kendall James are tied for second among the secondary, each with 29.

William & Mary is coming off a bye week. The teams did not play last year. Maine’s only road victory against William & Mary came in 2006.

“It really is going to be a tremendous challenge,” Maine coach Jack Cosgrove said. “We’ve almost become a better road team than a home team, I’m sorry to say.”

Indeed, the Black Bears are 2-2 on the road and winless in Orono. William & Mary is ranked last in the CAA in passing offense but fourth in rushing. Sophomore Raphael Ortiz, one of the three quarterbacks to start for William & Mary this season, is questionable for Saturday. He was injured in an Oct. 13 overtime loss to James Madison and did not practice last week.

That neither team is bound for postseason action matters little to those involved, said Al-Mateen, a four-year honor roll student in high school who has continued his academic success at UMaine as a business administration major.

“We’re still having fun playing the game we love,” he said. “That’s what we’ve been doing since the beginning. That’s what we’ll keep doing to the end.”

With four games remaining, the Black Bears still have a shot at a winning record.

Their November schedule includes home games against James Madison and Georgia State before wrapping up at Rhode Island.

“No one wants to end the season on a losing note,” Clay said. “We still have our pride to play for, and the Black Bear name.”


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