BIDDEFORD — On the backs of their helmets, near the base of their necks, are three words:

Storm The Gates.

The initial foray came Thursday night, when the University of New England football team opened practice in anticipation of its first season of NCAA Division III varsity competition.

“I expected a lot of energy,” said sophomore quarterback Brian Peters, who took most of the snaps during the team’s sub-varsity schedule last fall. “I knew it was going to be an up-tempo practice. First day, we’re going to have fresh legs. I liked what I saw. I think we have a lot of talent here, especially the young guns coming up. We looked good.”

Four years after announcing plans to add football and 21/2 years after hiring Coach Mike Lichten to lead the program, UNE will become one of the seven new NCAA varsity programs this fall. The Nor’easters will play six games within the Commonwealth Coast Conference and four outside the league, including a season-ender against another first-year club, Alvernia University of Reading, Pennsylvania.

UNE has three weeks to prepare for its opener Aug. 30 – a Thursday night – at Coast Guard in New London, Connecticut. The home opener will be a Saturday matinee in Biddeford against Husson on Sept. 8.

A crowd of more than four dozen cheered and applauded as 77 players wearing shorts, jerseys and helmets jogged onto a grass practice field shortly after 7 p.m. Defensive players wore blue jerseys. Offensive players wore white. Six quarterbacks and two kicker/punters wore red.

Five overturned plastic trash barrels served as opposing linemen for players practicing defensive alignments and responsibilities, overseen by Lichten and seven assistant coaches. A drone occasionally hummed overhead, providing a bird’s-eye view for instructional video.

“It’s exciting to finally be at this point,” said Eric Ruest, a junior offensive lineman from North Attleboro, Massachusetts, who holds the distinction of being the program’s first recruit. “There’s a bigger roster. It’s got more of a real feel.”

In Ruest’s two years on campus, he has seen renovations to the Harold Alfond Forum that include an expanded weight room and new locker room. A new blue turf field should be ready for practice next week.

“It’s definitely cool to watch something literally come from the ground up,” he said, “with facilities, staff, roster, everything.”

Against a variety of sub-varsity and prep school opponents last fall, UNE went 2-6. The victories came against the Norwich JV in Vermont and the Bates JV in Lewiston. All games were played away from Biddeford, although the Nor’easters met a New Jersey prep school at Fitzpatrick Stadium in Portland.

This fall, there will be rough patches. With only two seniors and a handful of juniors, UNE will be younger and less physically mature than nine of its 10 opponents.

“That’s going to be a hurdle we have to overcome,” Lichten said. “We don’t have a choice. So worrying about it or lamenting over it is not what we’re going to do.”

Not everything went smoothly Thursday night. Brandon Crawford-Adams, an incoming freshman from San Antonio, was concentrating on catching a long pass down the sideline when he collided with a blocking sled. His helmet popped off and he fell to the ground … but popped back to his feet, still clutching the football.

Lichten called it “a cringe-worthy moment” and attributed it to practicing in unfamiliar space.

“I guarantee it won’t happen again,” he said. “But they’re tough kids and they’re equipped properly, so we’re in good shape.”

Crawford-Adams, whose mother was watching from the opposite sideline, laughed off the mishap. Initially attracted to the school for lacrosse and pharmacy, he said the football program’s welcoming family culture lifted UNE to the top of the list of the 13 colleges he visited.

“This is my home away from home,” he said. “We’ve got guys from Florida. We’ve got guys from Texas, my home. We’ve got guys from right here in Maine. It’s just nice to see us all come together and potentially do something really special this year.”

Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or

[email protected]

Twitter: GlennJordanPPH

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.