ORONO — Joe Harasymiak believes that for his University of Maine football team to have an efficient offense, it has to run the ball effectively.

But in an interview a couple weeks before the Black Bears began practicing, even he couldn’t say what that meant. “It doesn’t have to be a lot, or a little,” he said. “It just has to be effective.”

The Maine running backs have a much clearer definition. Speaking after Monday’s third practice of the preseason – a spirited session that included a couple scuffles – junior Zaire Williams said, “As a team, we want 200 (rushing) yards a game.”

Sophomore Darian Davis-Ray added this: “We’re definitely going to lead the (Colonial Athletic Association) in rushing.”

Big words, big goals. But this is a confident stable of running backs. Even as the Black Bears continue their search for a starting quarterback, with senior Dan Collins and junior Drew Belcher once again the leading candidates, Maine’s running backs look to bring balance to an offense that has been very predictable at times in the past.

“We want to give the defense more than one look,” said Davis-Ray. “Rather than pass, pass, pass.”


Nigel Beckford, a junior who led Maine with 526 rushing yards last year, returns, as does sophomore Joe Fitzpatrick of North Yarmouth and Cheverus High. Williams transferred from Temple University and Davis-Ray is healthy after missing seven games because of an ankle injury last year. Freshman Joshua Mack, from Rochester, New York, is also getting carries in the early preseason.

They look to provide a thumping aspect to the offense that could open up the field for talented playmakers such as receivers Micah Wright and Jordan Dunn.

“We want to be aggressive, we’re looking to score touchdowns,” said Beckford. “We’re still learning right now. But we will get there.”

Liam Coen, Maine’s first-year offensive coordinator, is installing a new offense for the Black Bears and believes these backs are perfect for it.

“We want to be tough, physical and play fast,” said Coen. “I think our offensive linemen, tight ends and running backs are built for that type of play.”

And he likes that they’re already setting goals. When Coen played at the University of Massachusetts, he said the team goal was 225 yards a game.


“Two hundred is good for us,” he said. “But effectiveness, for us, is an attitude. If we start with an attitude, and a mentality, that we’re going to be able to run, come off the ball and be physical, then the statistics, the numbers, the efficiency will take care of itself.”

Jamil Demby, a junior offensive tackle, likes all this talk about a power running game.

“As an offensive lineman, we’re not going to score touchdowns, but seeing our running backs going up and down the field is our glory,” he said. “We run the ball, that opens up the offense.”

Coen said everyone will have a role. They all bring different talents to the club, but the one common trait is that they like to run “downhill,” or, if needed, over a defender. That’s the mentality he wants the offense to take: “We’ve got to be able to punch people in the face.”

Harasymiak said the competition for the running back position likely won’t be decided until after the team’s second scrimmage on Aug. 21. “That’s a group where every day is going to matter,” he said. “One thing we are stressing as coaches is that pretty much we’re grading everything. Every snap, every carry.”

Fitzpatrick, who just two years ago was preparing for his senior season at Cheverus, is in the mix. At 5-foot-10, 222 pounds, he is regarded as the power rusher among the group, most capable of picking up the short yards needed to keep drives alive.


“If Joey Fitz stays healthy, he can give us that power back that we can use,” said Harasymiak, noting that Fitzpatrick was banged up in the spring. “Like all of them, he’s got things to improve on. He’s a quiet, humble kid who comes to work every day.”

Fitzpatrick, who gained 63 yards in limited action last fall, said he has a much better grasp of college football this year.

“It’s like night and day,” he said. “I came in last year not knowing how different college football, let alone Division I college football, was from Maine high school football.”

He did learn much at Cheverus about the mental approach to the game from legendary coach John Wolfgram – “He showed me the way to play,” said Fitzpatrick – but it took him time to learn all the intricacies of college football.

“Now I’m able to read defenses and (properly) pick up the blitz,” he said.

He likes Coen’s offensive scheme, saying it is very similar to what Wolfgram ran at Cheverus. And he loves the running backs’ potential.

“We want to pound the ball as much as we can,” he said. “I think our offense can be really explosive.”


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