ORONO — John Reddington went through his reps in the bench press, and with each one the cheers became louder. The encouragement became more forceful, shouted over the rhythm of Reddington’s breathing as he lifted the weight, again and again, 17 times.

“Do it, Red!”

“Don’t slow down!”

The goal was to press 225 pounds as many times in a row as possible, in front of University of Maine football teammates, friends, coaches, and most importantly, scouts from a dozen NFL teams. A former Black Bears offensive lineman, Reddington was one of seven University of Maine players put through the paces by the scouts Friday morning. In the weight room and Mahaney Dome practice bubble, the Black Bears hoped to show enough skills to augment what NFL teams have seen on game film to earn either a coveted spot in the draft or a free agent contract in April.

John Reddington runs an agility drill during the University of Maine football team’s pro day on Friday in Orono. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan

“You see guys make it from Maine because we’re blue collar guys, we’re hard-working guys. We’ve faced adversity throughout our whole careers, so we’re used to that stuff. We’re really mentally tough,” tight end Drew Belcher said.

The Black Bears are coming off their most successful season. They went 10-4, won the Colonial Athletic Association title, and reached the semifinals of the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.

With that success comes attention. The 12 teams at Friday’s pro day workout doubled the number from last year’s pro day.

“I’ve heard coaches say before, you win and they come,” wide receiver Micah Wright said. “I think today held true to that.”

Joining Wright, Belcher and Reddington were linebacker Sterling Sheffield, safeties Darius Hart and Jeff DeVaughn, and offensive tackle Cody Levy. The New England Patriots, Detroit Lions, Chicago Bears, and Green Bay Packers all had representatives in Orono on Friday.

Last season, three former Black Bears spent time with NFL teams: Pat Ricard in Baltimore, Trevor Bates in Detroit, and Jamil Demby, who was with the Los Angeles Rams, the Lions, then the Rams again. Demby was on hand Friday to offer encouragement to his former teammates.

“I’m just happy for them and the season they had, and now they get to come out here and show their athletic ability,” Demby said.

Nick Charlton was promoted to head coach from offensive coordinator in December, after former head coach Joe Harasymiak took a job at the University of Minnesota. Charlton said he expects the school’s pro day to continue to grow.

“This is the most (scouts) we’ve ever had here, and the is probably the strongest interest we’ve had.We’re planning on having it that way in the future.  This is part of the program taking the next step like that. I think that stuff’s important to us,” Charlton said. “At the end of the day, it’s about the players. We have good players here. They’ve been doing a good job developing. You have good players, they’ll show up.”

Micah Wright runs an agility drill during the University of Maine football team’s pro day on Friday in Orono. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan

Like the NFL combine, which draws college players from across the country to Indianapolis, Maine’s pro day featured a series of drills used to measure the players’ overall athletic skill. They jumped. They lifted. They ran, in a straight sprint and around cones, stopping on a dime, speeding up, and stopping again. They did it in front of a large crowd of enthusiastic teammates and well-wishers.

“It’s crazy. You get up to run the 40 and see everybody on the sideline with their phones out trying to time you. It gets the butterflies out,” said Wright, a third team all-CAA selection last season after catching 47 passes for 539 yards and six touchdowns. “The support is tremendous. It would be a different story if it was just us and the scouts. It’s good to have the guys along.”

Wright missed much of the 2017 season with a knee injury. After Friday’s workout, in which he was timed at 4.4 seconds in the 40-yard dash, Wright said his knee is 100 percent.

“In the beginning of the season, I was still nursing my knee. I was only eight and a half months out of surgery at that point. Over the course of the season… it’s really continued to improve. I’m grateful that I’m feeling well, running well,” Wright said.

The Black Bear drawing the most attention was Sheffield. At 6-foot-2, 225 pounds, Sheffield is a man caught between positions. A little small to play linebacker in the NFL, maybe a step too slow to play safety. What’s not in doubt is Sheffield’s work ethic and production in game situations. Sheffield had 84 tackles last season, including 9.5 sacks, 18 tackles for a loss and three fumble recoveries. He was selected first team FCS All-America by STATS, and second team All-America on the Associated Press FCS team, along with first team all-CAA.

When the overall workouts were complete, scouts put Sheffield through individual position drills for linebackers and defensive backs. The website draftscout.com ranks Sheffield as the 20th outside linebacker in the class of 2019 and projects him as a seventh round selection.

“They (scouts) said I’m a tweener. They said they loved how I worked today. I’m happy to be here, get this over with, and move on to the next stages,” said Sheffield, who had family from New Jersey in attendance.

Sheffield spent the last eight weeks training at the Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks, California, preparing for this day and the upcoming draft. In January, he sat down with reps from 20 NFL teams for interviews. When asked Friday what position does he think he projects to in the NFL, Sheffield’s answer was simple. Football player.

“My position will be on the field, to make a team. It doesn’t matter to me if I’m special teams or all-star, it doesn’t matter to me. I just want to be on the field and play the sport I love,” Sheffield said. “I think I have a lot of work to do, buy I feel like I’m prepared to go to the next level… Drafted or not drafted, I want to be able to make my dream come true.”

Getting a shot at an NFL minicamp is the goal for all the players who worked out Friday, but it’s not the sole option. The Canadian Football League is a consideration, along with the recently begun Alliance of American Football, and the XFL, which is expected to return in 2020.

Scouts and spectators watch as Sterling Sheffield does the vertical jump test during the University of Maine football team’s pro day on Friday in Orono. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan

“There’s going to be four leagues by the end of next year,” Wright said. “The NFL is the ultimate goal, but we’ll see what happens.”

Sheffield said the pro day workout is extra credit on top of a strong season. The entire portfolio has to be strong to make an impression with the NFL.

“This is basically an eight month, interview if you think about it,” Sheffield said.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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