ORONO — The University of Maine’s football success has forced the Black Bears to get a little creative in their recruiting. And that’s all right with third-year head coach Joe Harasymiak.

As Maine prepares to play in its first NCAA Football Championship Subdivision semifinal game Saturday at Eastern Washington University in Cheney, Washington, the Black Bears have been unable to visit any recruits or have recruits on campus for official weekend visits. So they’re bringing some during the week.

The NCAA’s early signing period for Division I and Division II football teams – which is in its second year – is Dec. 19-21. Schools are allowed two weekends to have recruits on campus before the early signing period, but Maine has had to cancel both: last weekend when it played in the FCS quarterfinals at Weber State in Ogden, Utah, and this weekend.

“It’s a good thing,” said Harasymiak. “I’ll deal with it. It’s my first time going through it. You can look at it as a negative in that we don’t get out to schools but we also have the (regular) signing period. Our recruiting isn’t based on the early signing period. We’ll do a lot of work after.”

The regular signing period for NCAA Division I and II football programs starts Feb. 6.

Last year Maine signed five recruits on the first day of early signing, including cornerback Katley Joseph, of Ottawa, Ontario, and linebacker Adrian Otero, of Hazleton, Pennsylvania. Both have been huge factors this season.

Harasymiak said the team was hosting four recruits and their families Tuesday and Wednesday this week. “With the early signing period we wanted to get guys up to visit we felt we wanted to see the place and have a chance to commit to sign,” he said.

He said the players and families would be treated to a dinner Tuesday night then visit the campus Wednesday, getting a full rundown of everything the university has to offer. “It won’t be the same as if it were the weekend,” said Harasymiak. “We usually bring them to hockey, basketball. It’s just tough but I think they understand the situation we’re in.”

In fact, he said he hopes to use the situation to his advantage.

“I think we will definitely take this and I think it will mean more for our recruits hopefully at the end of the day,” said Harasymiak. “I know it challenges us with the visits but right now we’re excited. To tell someone who’s sitting in my office the next two days that ‘Hey we’re sorry we couldn’t get you up for the weekend but we’re in the final four’ is pretty special.”

Harasymiak notes that recruiting has become a year-round process. He said he and his staff have already seen and identified their top recruits during the summer. He added that he and his staff went to see them play during Maine’s bye week and during some road games, when they were able to attend Friday games.

“We have seen these guys this fall but we haven’t been able to get out the last three weeks to see these guys like everyone else,” he said.

NO ONE was seen rubbing Liam Dobson’s belly for luck. But they could have.

With the temperature hovering in the single digits at Tuesday morning’s practice, Maine’s 6-foot-3, 330-pound sophomore all-conference right guard had his short-sleeved shirt hitched up and over his Buddha-like midriff.

“I thought I was going to get a sunburn out there,” Dobson joked.

Shorts, hinged protective braces over each of his four major joints, shoulder pads and helmet completed the bearded Canadian’s ensemble.

Before Friday’s NCAA FCS quarterfinal at Weber State in Ogden, Utah, Dobson warmed up shirtless for the third straight week. He started the routine before the regular-season finale against Elon, on the urging of Harasymiak.

“He was like, ‘Elon’s from North Carolina. They’re going to come up here, there’s going to be snow on the ground, it’s going to be cold and they’re going to go on the field and see a crazy, shirtless guy warming up,'” Dobson said. “I was good for it, try to get in their head a little bit.”

Dobson grew up in Ottawa, Ontario, which is only a half-degree of latitude farther north than Orono, but consistently windier.

“It’s always good when a guy feels like he can be himself,” said Maine’s offensive line coach, Pat Denecke. “Liam doesn’t pretend to be anything he’s not. He’s a big, rugged guy from north of the border.”

Dobson is also an athlete, capable of dunking a basketball.

“When you see him move and run, and get out in space, it’s just different than anybody else,” Denecke said.

In his first year as a full-time starter he earned second-team Colonial Athletic Association honors. He and senior tackle Cody Levy have started every game on the right side of Maine’s offensive line, forming a cohesive tandem.

“Last week we had the opportunity to play for the title of being the best team in Maine history and we pulled that off,” Dobson said. “This week we have a chance to (advance to) the national championship, which would be just a phenomenal feat. So you’re about to see me out there shirtless.”

HARASYMIAK DID something he’s never done in his coaching career this week: He gave his players three consecutive days off – Saturday, Sunday and Monday – after the 23-18 win over Weber State. “I think it paid dividends today,” he said of Tuesday’s energetic practice.

Harasymiak did it to allow his players to recover “from the trip, and (Weber State) was our most physical game of the year. We wanted to give them time to rest and recuperate. We talked about it as a staff. These practices aren’t going to be overly physical. That goes back to the NFL model and all that. I’ve got to rely on these guys to tackle and get off blocks now. It’s all about mental preparation for me now this late in the year.”

EASTERN WASHINGTON’S red artificial turf at Roos Field was a topic of conversation among the media Tuesday. Harasymiak said he has “no way to replicate it” and really isn’t concerned about the color of the turf.

Neither are the players. “It’s going to be a little weird but we’re going out there early so we’re going to get Thursday and Friday to prepare and see it,” said sophomore quarterback Chris Ferguson. “Once our eyes adjust pregame I don’t think it’ll be a problem.”

MAINE SENIOR linebacker Sterling Sheffield was a second-team pick on the Associated Press FCS All-America team announced Tuesday. No Maine players were picked for the first or third teams. Sheffield is second on Maine with 79 tackles, including 17.5 for loss and 9.5 sacks. He also has one intereception, three fumble recoveries, two forced fumbles and seven pass breakups.

Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: MikeLowePPH

Steve Craig can be reached at 791-6413 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: SteveCCraig


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