Last week, UMaine freshman Joe Fagnano threw for 445 yards in a loss at Liberty – the most in a game by any quarterback in the Colonial Athletic Association this year. Peter Buehner photo

Joe Fagnano hails from an athletic family.

His father, Phil, was a pitcher in the Philadelphia Phillies’ minor-league system in 1997 and 1998. His two older brothers, Jake and Jared, both played football at Penn State. Jared was also a pitcher on the Nittany Lions’ baseball team.

And now Joe Fagnano is the starting quarterback for the University of Maine football team as an 18-year-old freshman. Fagnano, who has been taking the snaps since junior Chris Ferguson suffered a season-ending foot injury two weeks ago, will lead the Black Bears (2-5, 0-3 Colonial Athletic Association) in a home game against William & Mary (2-5, 0-3 CAA) at 1 p.m. Saturday.

Since replacing Ferguson, Fagnano has completed 35 of 53 passes for 602 yards and six touchdowns, with two interceptions. Last week, in a 59-44 loss against FBS opponent Liberty, Fagnano threw for 445 yards – the most in a game by any quarterback in the Colonial Athletic Association this year – and five touchdowns in his first college start.

Maine Coach Nick Charlton was more impressed with Fagnano’s presence. “He’s just very poised and is not afraid of the moment,” said Charlton. “He doesn’t get rattled.”

Ferguson said it was obvious from the first day of training camp in August that Fagnano could play. “He’s got game,” said Ferguson. “He picked up things fast, he picked up (defensive) coverages. He’s a ballplayer.”

Fagnano’s rapid success at the college level isn’t surprising to anyone who watched him grow up in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.

“He’s been a leader and a superstar since Little League baseball and youth football,” said Sean McCann, the athletic director at Williamsport Area High School. “It’s in the bloodlines. He’s a good student, a leader, a role model for the kids.”

Competing in Pennsylvania’s 6A division – the largest classification in the state – Fagnano threw for 4,059 career yards and 42 touchdowns. He also rushed for 956 yards and 16 touchdowns.

That ability to run is something that attracted UMaine. “He presents defenses with a lot of different issues with his ability,” said Charlton.

Fagnano had an outstanding junior year, passing for 2,460 yards and 30 touchdowns. In his senior year, he was forced to run more, gaining 470 yards. “He had a D-1 line in front of him his junior year,” said Chuck Crews, the football coach at Williamsport. “He had time to stand back, pat the ball and wait for guys to get open. His senior year … He was running for his life.”

Fagnano also played baseball in high school and was pretty good at it. But football was his sport. “I just liked the team aspect of football more,” said Fagnano. “It clicked better with me.”

Because Fagnano played behind an all-state quarterback his first two seasons, he didn’t attract a lot of attention from college recruiters. Maine got in early because it had once recruited a wide receiver there, Jerah Reeves, now a senior at Albany. Once the Black Bears saw Fagnano play, “they knew they had something,” said Crews. “He’s a steal.”

Maine also had a supporter in McCann, the athletic director. He grew up in Sanford, played football there under Pat Conley, and graduated from UMaine in 1991. He often talked to Fagnano’s family about the university.

Although Fagnano received Division I scholarship offers from VMI and St. Francis after his senior season, he was sold on Maine after a visit to Orono last winter. “It was just the culture of the team,” he said. “Everyone was on the same page, it was a tight family. And I wanted to be a part of that.”

Fagnano, who earned a full scholarship this summer based on his work in training camp, said Ferguson has been a big help in his transition from high school. “He has showed me the ins and outs of the whole offense, has told me what to read, what I should be looking for in the defense,” said Fagnano. “He tells me what I’m doing right and what I’m doing wrong, then shows me how to correct my mistakes.”

Ferguson said those lessons will continue while he recovers from his injury. “I’m not going to change anything,” said Ferguson. “I’m going to work with Joe, make sure he’s as prepared as I would be for a game.”

Both Crews and McCann said Fagnano was well-prepared for college football. “He’s got a great mind for the game,” said McCann. “He put a lot of time into film study and understands defenses more than your typical high school quarterback. He knew what he needed to do to succeed at the next level.”

Fagnano is not as outgoing as Ferguson. But that’s the way he’s always been.

“He is pretty reserved,” said Crews. “Joe doesn’t have a big Twitter presence, he’s not (into social media). He had a core group of friends that he hung around with. He’s got a good sense of who he is as a man, as a person, and that stems from his family. He’s not a guy you need to worry about.

“His play is going to speak volumes. His work ethic is going to speak volumes.”

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