ORONO — Hunter Smith was a star athlete at Foxcroft Academy when he attended a football camp at the University of Maine. While there he listened to one of his favorite players.

“I had been following Trevor Bates,” said Smith. “And when he told us he was from Maine, from Westbrook, I said, ‘Wow, he’s one of the best players on the team.’

“He showed us that a kid from Maine can make it there.”

Now a redshirt sophomore for the UMaine football team, Smith wants to be the next Trevor Bates. “I want to show other kids from Maine that they can do it,” he said.

There are 10 players from Maine high schools participating in spring football. Some, like redshirt junior running back Joe Fitzpatrick of North Yarmouth (Cheverus High), redshirt sophomore Owen Elliott of Saco (Thornton Academy) and senior kicker Patrick Leonard of Lowell (John Bapst) have established roles.

Others, like Smith, redshirt freshman defensive lineman Raffaele Salamone of Portland (Deering) and redshirt freshman wide receiver Damon Osmond of Bath (Morse) are looking to make an impression on the Black Bears’ coaching staff that could lead not only to playing time, but increased scholarship money.

Like most freshmen coming in, the Maine recruits went through a redshirt season, where the athletes practice with the team but don’t play in any games. That way, they can adjust not only to college life on the football field, but in all aspects of their lives.

“That’s the path for most of the Maine guys,” said Coach Joe Harasymiak. “Even Trevor Bates. He came in on a partial scholarship and earned himself a spot to play in the NFL. You’ve got to earn your stripes and go from there.”

Earning those stripes can take time. But Smith, who missed his senior year at Foxcroft after he dislocated a hip in the first preseason scrimmage, said his redshirt year was invaluable.

“It’s definitely a huge help,” he said. “I came in undersized, the playbook was hard to learn, I wasn’t confident knowing the routes. I wasn’t a confident player. Having two years here was actually a blessing.”

Smith’s time at Maine has also been hampered by knee injuries – meniscus tears – at the end of each of the two football seasons. Now healthy, he’s in the mix to play wide receiver for the Black Bears. And as Maine’s spring football practices continue, he said, “I’m here to show them I’m ready to play and prove that I can play.”

Sitting out can be challenging. “It’s a little tough just watching,” said Salamone, the former Deering standout. “You’re so used to playing for so long. In high school, never coming off the field. And now you’ve got to watch from the sideline and not even dress. It’s definitely mentally challenging. But it’s something you’ve got to work through and realize it’s better for you in the long run.”

And for Salamone, that was improving physically. A nose tackle for the Black Bears, he gained 15 pounds this year and now stands 6-3, 255.

“He has changed his body,” said Harasymiak. “He still has a long way to go in terms of his development but he’s taking it in stride. He’s taking coaching, he’s doing everything we ask him to do. He’s looking like a guy who’s going to compete on the D line. He’s doing all the right things.”

Spring practice is important to Salamone. “This is where I can make a push to get some playing time in the fall,” he said.

Osmond is in a similar situation as Smith. He missed his senior year at Morse, where he played multiple positions, after he broke his collarbone in the Shipbuilders’ first game. The Black Bears had discovered him at a Boston College football camp and welcomed him as a walk-on. Osmond said sitting out his freshman year helped him realize what he was getting into.

“It gave me time to understand what the coaches wanted and what I actually needed to do to get better,” he said.

He and Smith have developed a nice bond.

“Basically we help each other out,” said Osmond. “If I have questions, I go to him. We have that Maine bond.”

Harasymiak said the Maine bond is important.

“We have made an emphasis of recruiting the state of Maine,” he said. “We divide the state up and each coach has a specific area. We’re all responsible for schools. We don’t want to miss certain kids. And I think we’ve done a good job with it. I know it’s important to our fan base and our community.”

Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or:

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