ORONO — One of Jack Cosgrove’s favorite analogies is getting stale.

The head football coach at the University of Maine, Cosgrove likes to tell his team about Wally Pipp. As the legend goes, Pipp, the first baseman for the New York Yankees in the early 1920s, arrived at the ballpark one day in the summer of 1925 with a headache. A young Lou Gehrig played first base that day, and every day until early in the 1939 season.

Cosgrove’s point is simple — take advantage of every opportunity. The problem is over the last 89 years Wally Pipp has become a footnote in history. Most of the players have never heard of him.

“Now nobody knows who he is,” Cosgrove said.

Even some of Cosgrove’s assistant coaches get the story wrong. Cosgrove has heard his staff tell the story with Joe DiMaggio replacing Pipp in the Yankees lineup. Or Micky Mantle. Or Babe Ruth.

While Cosgrove looks for a new story with which to make his point, the Black Bears go through the early days of training camp looking to make their mark. If things are going well, the depth chart will fluctuate like the Maine weather. When one player goes down, another better be ready to take his place.

“There’s been a number of cases. When I say Wally Pipp I just say if a guy gets hurt, an opportunity knocks,” Cosgrove said. “The scary part is, the guy who gets hurt, when he comes back, there’s a guy there now competing with him that wasn’t there before. That’s life. Opportunity knocks, people take advantage of it.

“We’re promoting that because I think the spirit of competition is what drives us. We want it to drive this football team. We want it to drive this world.”

One of the players taking advantage of an opportunity is John McCabe. A junior linebacker from Winslow, McCabe has played in two games as a Black Bear. But he’s impressed the coaches during spring practices, and continued to do so the first week of camp.

“We’ve been able to watch John McCabe in situations now where he’s playing with the ones because of an injury. That’s helped him and that helps our football team,” Cosgrove said.

Defensive lineman Mike Kozlakowski approaches camp from the other side, as a player fighting to win his job back. Kozlakowski made 47 tackles in 2012, but early in preseason last year he tore his left bicep and missed all but the final game of the season — a playoff loss to New Hampshire.

“Right now I’m starting, and my hope is to be with the starting d-line and just do whatever I can to make up for lost time,” Kozlakowski said. “The d-line is a great group of guys. Whoever is front of me, I know they deserve the spot just as well as I would.”

The defensive line might be the most talented and deepest piece of Maine’s team. It won’t be easy for Kozlakowski to retake his starting job, nor should it be.

“Koz is really aching after missing last year. When he ended up getting back on the practice field, he worked on the scout team for us and I remember praising him a couple times in front of the guys,” Cosgrove said. “Not being able to play in games, but practicing hard for his teammates, I just thought that showed great character. Now you look at him, facing the opportunity that he’s got and he really is fired up.”

There’s been many players who have forced their way on to the field with exceptional play in camp, Cosgrove said. Some take advantage of opportunity, and some, like Mike Thomas, have opportunity thrust upon them.

Thomas was an offensive lineman with the Black Bears in the mid-1990s. In 1995, Maine played Richmond at Fitzpatrick Stadium in Portland. Thomas didn’t dress for the game, but was in the stands with his girlfriend to watch his team.

In the first half — as Black Bear linemen went down with injury — Cosgrove sent then-Sports Information Director Matt Bourque to find Thomas in the stands. Thomas was eating a hoagie and drinking either a soda or a beer, depending on who tells the story. Wearing borrowed equipment, Thomas played the second half.

“Thomas became a good offensive lineman for us,” Cosgrove said.

The Black Bears open the season on Aug. 30 at home against Norfolk State. Each Black Bear should ask himself, is he Lou Gehrig, or Wally Pipp? They have 20 days to find out.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.