ORONO — John McCabe is a 6-foot, 220-pound testament to the power of working your butt off.

In the first week of preseason practices, McCabe, a senior linebacker from Winslow, was listed second on the Black Bears’ depth chart at the mike (middle) linebacker position. That was just McCabe’s spot on paper. With an injury to starter Christopher Mulumba Tshimanga, McCabe spent the week practicing with the first team.

“I love all the reps and getting accustomed to all the different sets that we have. It’s going well. Obviously it’s tough. Camp’s always tough,” McCabe said. “The summer prepared me very well. Always stretching, always lifting. It’s hard, but it’s good right now.”

One of the hardest working Black Bears is finally seeing that sweat equity pay off.

“Johnny is really a great story of perseverance and working hard. Throughout his career, he’s done everything we’ve asked of him,” Maine head coach Jack Cosgrove said. “He overcame some injuries. He had some opportunities with us, and made some great contributions. Right now, he’s getting a ton of reps in preseason. It’s one of those situations, next guy in, so he gets a chance with the setback to Mulumba, and he’s done a really good job. He’s a guy who knows our defense, who we trust can go in and execute.”

McCabe’s climb up the depth chart was a slow grind. His first season at Maine was spent as a redshirt freshman, working out and practicing, but ineligible to play in any games. In 2012, McCabe was eligible to play, but had surgery to repair a torn meniscus and saw no game action. As a sophomore in 2013, McCabe played in two games and made his first career tackle in the season opener against Norfolk State.

Last season, McCabe played in five games. He made a tackle against Albany, and against the University of Rhode Island McCabe’s quarterback pressure on the Rams’ final play helped force them to turn the ball over on downs, preserving a 20-14 win for the Black Bears. Like his redshirt freshman year, 2014 was a season in which McCabe battled injury.

“I tore my hamstring about five times last year, so I was out for about five games,” McCabe said. “You work, coming so far for so long in the game I love to finally be able to play and get some serious playing time.”

Too often, players won’t put in the work required to stay at Maine without assurances of playing time. McCabe knows he could have gone to any number of Division II or III schools and been a multiple-season starter. That would have been too easy.

“It was tough at first. Adversity shows a man to himself and it’s made me stronger. I don’t know where I’d be without this. I really truly enjoy it, and hopefully this year goes great,” McCabe said. “I was getting recruited by a lot of D-III schools and I could’ve played right away. I don’t know, there was not as much challenge in that. You don’t challenge yourself in life, then you don’t get much reward out of it. I’m very glad I made this decision.”

Maine’s coaching staff has noticed McCabe’s work ethic. McCabe’s teammates have noticed, too.

“He’s one of the hardest working kids on the team. He really wants it. He really loves the game,” senior wide receiver John Hardy said. “He does everything day in and day out that can make him better. He’s just a student of the game. He’s passionate about what he does.”

“It’s a real credit to the persistency he’s shown to be a football player,” Cosgrove said. “He invested in the program, and the program invested in him. The results have been really good. I think he’s a very, very important member of this football team. There’s a lot of things we hope and expect to see from him this year. Not only in performance, but leadership.”

Hours of practice, weight training, film study, bus rides and rehab from injury are behind where McCabe is now, in position to earn minutes of game time in his last few months of college football.

“Obviously, I want to play as much as possible, but I’m willing to do whatever. I’m trying to keep an open mind. You start to appreciate it. It’s my last year, and I start to step back and look at it,” McCabe said. “I really want to enjoy it. If I get time, then great. If I don’t get as much as I want, then that’s all right too. Hopefully, I’ll get out there at linebacker and special teams and have a great year.”

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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