When the University of Maine football team opens its season on Sept. 2 with a 7 p.m. game against Delaware, the Black Bears will be running onto a newly surfaced football field and playing in front of fans for the first time since Nov. 16, 2019.

University of Maine officials will allow fans to attend on-campus sporting events starting in the fall. Season ticket packages are already on sale for football and men’s hockey games.

No fans were allowed to attend home games in any sports in 2020-21 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Ken Ralph, the UMaine athletic director, said there will be no restrictions on how many fans can attend.

“Right now, we’re planning on being able to sell every seat,” he said. “And we’re not going to require fans to be vaccinated, but we are asking fans to get the vaccination if they’re able to.”

Neither will masks be required, at least in the outdoor venues. “We’re waiting on more information on what will be required indoors,” said Ralph.

The roar of the crowd is certainly something the football team is looking forward to hearing. The 2020 fall season was canceled last year because of the pandemic, but the Black Bears played four games – two at home – this spring.

“It’s going to be huge,” said senior wide receiver Andre Miller of Old Town. “I mean, we missed it quite a bit last year, the atmosphere. To look into the stands and see and hear the crowd, it adds a different dynamic to the game. … I’m really looking forward to it.”

Football season tickets have been on sale for several weeks.

“Sales have been fantastic,” Ralph said. “Last year was such a tough year for everyone. And now everyone is looking forward to getting back to the social exercises we love so much and the camaraderie that comes from them.”

“We all want to get back to some form of normalcy,” said football coach Nick Charlton. “It means a lot to us to have fans in the stands. It’s critical to the atmosphere that we’re trying to create.”

So is the new, state-of-the-art football surface. Installation began on June 7, replacing a long-overdue artificial surface that had been in place since 2008. The field was worn, discolored in areas and very hard.

The new FieldTurf surface is the first project to be completed under the school’s Athletics Facilities Master Plan, a $110 million comprehensive upgrade of nearly every athletic facility on campus that is being mostly funded by a $90 million gift from the Harold Alfond Foundation.

The new field is expected to have a life of 12-to-15 years. It includes a mix of slit film and monofilament fibers to give the field a more full look while holding the infill material in place.

“It feels great seeing it happen,” said Ralph. “For students, fans and supporters, it feels more real now that something tangible is out there.”

The football team worked out on the field Thursday. Coaches are allowed to work with the players in running and conditioning drills that do not include footballs. The team is also holding captain’s practices.

“It’s great,” said Miller. “It came out really good and it definitely feels good to be able to run on softer stuff. It doesn’t feel like you’re running on concrete.”

Miller said now it’s a matter of getting used to it. “It will be good to pack it down,” he said. “It’s totally different running on it compared to what we had before.”

Charlton said the new surface adds another positive layer to the recruiting process.

“It is a big deal and we’re all really excited about it,” he said. “It’s good to get out there with the guys and start breaking it in. It really is a big step for the program. It’s something to be excited about for the current players and the recruiting process going forward.

“That’s a big part of it. We’re working on that, we’re making renovations to the locker room area. There are a lot of good things going on that definitely are important. With how recruiting is now, and the (transfer) portal, every little thing is important.”

The Black Bears will report for training camp on Aug. 3, with the first practice the next morning.

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