For years, the college football season in Maine has kicked off with a luncheon in Portland. Sponsored by the Maine chapter of the National Football Foundation, the event features short remarks from each of the state’s head coaches. They look ahead to the upcoming season, and they celebrate their game.

Every year, Jack Cosgrove spoke last.

Part of it was because at the University of Maine, Cosgrove coached the only Division I team in the state. Also, Cosgrove was so engaging, so gregarious, so passionate, who in their right mind would want to follow him?

After 23 seasons, Cosgrove stepped down as the Black Bears coach following the 2015 campaign. The sideline has a magnetic pull, though, and after two years away, Cosgrove is coming back. On Friday, it was announced Cosgrove is the new head football coach at Colby College.

It’s always nice when you conduct a nationwide search and the best candidate turns out to be 60 miles up the highway. The truth is, Colby wasn’t going to find a more qualified candidate than Cosgrove.

Under Cosgrove, Maine won three conference championships and played in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision (or I-AA, if you prefer) playoffs five times. Numerous times, Cosgrove’s Black Bears were nationally ranked. Cosgrove won a school-record 129 games at Maine.

Excitement like Cosgrove’s hiring hasn’t been seen around Colby football in more than a decade. Cony High School football coach B.L. Lippert is a Colby graduate, and was a quarterback for the Mules in the early 2000s.

“I think it’s a home run,” Lippert said of Cosgrove’s hiring. “He had such an outstanding tenure at the University of Maine and beyond that, I’ve always respected the class and professionalism that Coach Cosgrove displayed representing the university. I think he’ll be a great fit on Mayflower Hill.”

All of that is attractive to Colby, which is looking to jump start a football program that won a single game last season, and hasn’t had a winning record since 2005.

The differences in Division I and Division III football are largely cosmetic. The players Cosgrove coached at Maine are bigger and faster than those he will coach at Colby, but the game is the same. Football is football. Cosgrove will not be sending any players on to the NFL like he did with the Black Bears, but he will build relationships with his players and the Colby community.

At the local level, the stakes at Colby are the same as at Maine, or any college football program. Prepare players for life after the game. Run the program with class. That was the case under Jonathan Michaeles, Cosgrove’s Colby predecessor, and that will not change.

On a larger scale, the goals are still local. Colby’s conference, the New England Small College Athletic Conference, doesn’t allow its members to take part in the NCAA’s Division III playoffs. For Colby and its in-state conference rivals Bates and Bowdoin, it’s all about the CBB, the round robin rivalry that ends their season. Colby hasn’t won the CBB title since 2005. Win that, and set your sights on a conference title as well.

Recruiting at the University of Maine is a chore stuffed in a mission coated in elbow grease. The Orono campus is centrally located in Maine, which puts it on the far side of everyplace else. UMaine is 200 miles from its nearest Colonial Athletic Association rival, the University of New Hampshire. Cosgrove spent more than two decades convincing talented athletes to spend four or five years hundreds of miles from home. He will find academically-motivated football players eager to come to Colby and play for him.

After two years off, Cosgrove’s coaching batteries are recharged. His hiring is a signal from Colby that with new first-class facilities on the way, the school is committed to winning, too. Cosgrove is 62, but said this new challenge makes him feel younger. If he brings half the enthusiasm to Colby he brought to Maine, the Mules are in good hands.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM