ORONO — They ran fast, they ran hard. They pushed each other, they encouraged each other.

The University of Maine football team returned to the field Wednesday, eight days after freshman defensive back Darius Minor collapsed and died during a workout.

The Black Bears opened their training camp at Alfond Stadium with a two-and-a-half hour practice that was a much-needed return to normalcy for the players, who have had only one thing on their minds for the last week.

“It was important,” said junior cornerback Manny Patterson, who worked out with Minor during the summer. “This past week has been pretty hard for us. Being able to come out here and do what we love, keep Darius on our mind at the same time, but also keep our mind busy … he’s been heavy on our mind this whole week.”

Coach Joe Harasymiak was not at practice. He and defensive backs coach Matt Birkett were in Fredericksburg, Virginia, for Minor’s funeral. UMaine held a private memorial service for the team and athletic department simultaneously on campus.

“The fellows needed it, the staff needed it, the coaches needed it,” said Jim Settele, the interim athletic director.

Defensive coordinator Corey Hetherman and senior defensive back Jeff DeVaughn, who also worked out with Minor in the summer, spoke at the memorial service. That, along with the first practice, certainly helped the healing process.

“We’ve sort of been in a standstill the last week and a half,” said junior running back Joe Fitzpatrick of North Yarmouth and Cheverus High. “It was good today with the vigil we had for him, it was very nice. I think today helped get us moving in the right direction.”

It’s not easy. Everyone has questions. Minor, who was 18 and from Locust Grove, Virginia, collapsed during a supervised workout at Alfond Stadium. Neither UMaine’s training staff nor first responders were able to resuscitate him. The cause of death is still unknown, pending results from an autopsy.

“Today was definitely needed, especially because he was so young,” said Patterson. “You get questions: Why did this happen to him? Why didn’t it happen to me? You get so many questions going through your head. Just be able to come out here and perform, it’s a great relief.”

Players spoke of the energy the team displayed during the practice. Junior defensive lineman Kayon Whitaker, wearing the prestigious No. 9 jersey given to a defensive leader, said there was also “a different vibe” to the practice. Players seemed to embrace each other more.

“I’m not going to lie, there was a different vibe,” he said. “Guys were encouraging each other, there was a lot more effort on the field. We didn’t have to get on top of each other, everyone was bringing their all.”

It was their way, said senior wide receiver Micah Wright, of honoring Minor.

“We all know he wanted to be out here and this is where he would want us to be,” said Wright, wearing a brace on the right knee he injured last year. “We had our own service, and then we used all the emotions from that service and put it all out there today. I think everyone was going extra hard even though it was Day 1.”

Nick Charlton, Maine’s offensive coordinator, ran the practice in Harasymiak’s absence and spoke highly of how the team reacted.

“I’m very proud of this team,” he said. “These are 18-year-old kids, they shouldn’t have to go through this. We’re all very proud of these kids, these men.”

It wasn’t easy for everyone to return to the field, he said. “But at the same time, we have to get ready for the season. At the end of the day, it’s our job to keep going.”

The football field became a safe haven for the Black Bears on this day.

“This is healing through football,” said Settele. “This is a way we can respect (Minor), by playing as hard as we can.”

NOTES: For the most part, the Black Bears are healthy this training camp.

Senior defensive back Darrius Hart did not participate Wednesday after having his tonsils removed last week. Sophomore linebacker Jaron Grayer tweaked a hamstring and worked out on the side but is expected back soon. Senior defensive lineman Connor Walsh and redshirt freshman tight end Michael Laverriere, a Thornton Academy graduate, are both limited from offseason surgery. Laverriere, who had shoulder surgery for the second consecutive year, said he has been “working out full for a month now” but cannot participate in any contact drills for another month. “Have to follow the recovery protocol,” he said. … Everyone lauded DeVaughn’s speech at the memorial service. “It was exactly what was going through every person’s head,” said Fitzpatrick. “Jeff’s a great leader for this team.” … Maine will hold three scrimmages during training camp, the next three Mondays at 2:15 p.m. … Maine opens its season at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 30, against rival New Hampshire at Alfond Stadium.

Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: MikeLowePPH

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