Jeff DeVaughn thinks back to training camp, when Ramon Jefferson first burst onto the scene for the University of Maine football team.

It was in a team scrimmage and Jefferson, a redshirt freshman, took a handoff up the middle. As a defender approached, Jefferson planted his right foot, cut to his left and raced about 40 yards.

“Oh, he can catch you off-guard,” said DeVaughn, a senior safety for the Black Bears. “We thought we had him wrapped up then he broke loose. Going against our defense, I said, ‘Wow, that’s special.'”

And that’s just what Jefferson has been the last three games. Since returning from a hamstring injury that forced him to miss nearly three full games, Jefferson has become Maine’s lead rusher, carrying the ball 47 times for 294 yards and five touchdowns. He had a career-high 121 rushing yards and three touchdowns in a 35-28 road victory over Towson last Saturday.

“Ramon is a monster,” said DeVaughn. “You’ve got to give credit to the guy, he’s very strong, a hard worker. We’ve seen greatness in him since spring ball, even before that, on the scout team last year. He ran hard and you saw how bad he wanted it. Now it’s paying off and he’s shining when we need him most.”

With two games remaining, Maine is in position to win its first Colonial Athletic Association title in five years. Entering Saturday’s game at Richmond, the Black Bears are 6-3, 5-1 in the CAA and tied with Delaware for first. If Maine wins its last two games, it will clinch the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.

The Black Bears aren’t thinking that far ahead. They know they can’t overlook Richmond (3-6, 1-5), after losing to William & Mary (3-5, 2-3) three weeks ago.

“We know it’s out there,” said sophomore quarterback Chris Ferguson. “But we’ve got to stay humble. We’re not going to get complacent.”

If Maine is going to be successful, Jefferson is going to be a big part of it. Despite missing that injury time, he leads Maine with 515 rushing yards and five touchdowns. He averages 5.9 yards per carry.

The 5-foot-9, 175-pound Jefferson came to Maine from Harry S. Truman High School in the Bronx, where he ran for 5,456 yards and 52 touchdowns in his career.

“Maine was really the place that took a chance on me,” he said. “A lot of other schools recruited me but some said I wasn’t big enough, or not fast enough. Maine was the first team that talked to me and put some love out there for me. Then when I came for a visit and talked to the coaches and the players, it felt like a big family to me. And that was important.”

He was redshirted as a freshman. And while he called it a “humbling experience,” he said sitting out was very beneficial.

“It taught me there was a lot more to football than just going out and executing plays,” he said. “I learned how to read defenses, watch film, do my job. And it helped me bond with my teammates.”

When Josh Mack, who led the nation in rushing last year, transferred, Jefferson knew he’d be getting a chance. And now that he’s healthy, his workload is increasing. “It just feels good to know that my coaches and my teammates trust me enough to put me in that position,” he said.

Maine Coach Joe Harasymiak said the Black Bears have to continue to get him the ball.

“He’s our home run hitter at the tailback position,” Harasymiak said. “He makes a lot of guys miss.”

In last week’s win at Towson, Jefferson showed a tremendous burst of speed on a 64-yard touchdown run. He also scored on a 2-yard run and finally the winning touchdown on a 6-yard run in which he was hit at the 5 and then powered into the end zone with a big push from this teammates.

Ferguson said that play showed Maine’s determination.

“We’re a tough team and we’ve got a will to win,” said Ferguson.

Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: MikeLowePPH

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