As the University of Maine football coaches reviewed game film from their 2021 four-game spring season, one thing became fairly evident: the Black Bears had to get stronger.

“We felt physically outmatched at times,” said Mike Ryan, Maine’s defensive coordinator.

And in a physical sport like football, that’s not good.

“When you break football down to its most basic level,” said Maine Coach Nick Charlton, “it’s about winning up front. And at times last spring we did that. But when you’re playing the elite opponents we face in this league, you have to win the line of scrimmage. So we felt we had to put a huge emphasis on strength and conditioning this offseason.”

Charlton is confident the work the Black Bears did this summer has made them stronger and better. He estimated that about 70 players were on campus in June, 80 in July, working in the weight room and on individual drills.

“This summer was one of the best summers we’ve ever had,” said Charlton. “The guys really attacked things.”

Ryan said all that work put Maine in a good position. “I feel we are significantly more prepared now than we were back in the spring,” he said.

We’ll find out soon enough. Maine, 2-2 in the spring season, opens training camp Wednesday afternoon on the newly resurfaced turf field at Alfond Stadium. It’s Maine’s first training camp in two years, with the 2020 fall season canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s been a long time for a lot of these guys, the players, the staff, me,” said Charlton. “To say we’re excited would be an understatement.”

The Black Bears open their season at home against Colonial Athletic Association power Delaware at 7 p.m. Sept. 2. Between now and then, Charlton and his staff will attempt to figure out who is playing where. Many of the players from the spring season are back – Maine has 20 starters returning from the spring season (10 on offense, eight on defense, two on special teams) – and the Black Bears have been boosted by a slew of transfer students, several of whom should contend for starting positions.

Maine has 21 transfers on its roster of 105 players. More than half played during the spring season but several late additions have boosted the depth at several positions: defensive backs Arin Mannery (Portland State) and Harvey Clayton Jr. (Duquesne/Illinois), linebackers Brian Lee Jr., (Saint Francis) and Ray Miller (Campbell), running back John Gay (Lafayette), offensive lineman P.J. Barr (Bucknell), defensive lineman Xavier Mitchell (Arkansas Pine-Bluff) and kicker Vladimir Rivas (Florida Atlantic Union).

The coaching staff likes the depth Maine has accrued at several positions, most notably wide receiver, offensive line, linebackers and defensive backs. They feel that will add to the competition at each position and make the Black Bears a better team.

“I can tell you this,” said offensive coordinator Andrew Dresner, “it’s going to be a big-time evaluation period for us in those first five or six practices before our first scrimmage.”

Maine has two scrimmages – Aug. 12 and Aug. 18. Training camp ends on Aug. 23.

Maine is set at quarterback with junior Joe Fagnano, who in 12 career games has thrown for 2,630 yards, 25 touchdowns and only four interceptions.

“I really feel he was disrespected by the fact he didn’t get any preseason (CAA) accolades,” said Dresner. “For him to not even be mentioned as an honorable mention? It doesn’t matter, his production here is unmatched.”

Dresner is looking forward to the competition behind Fagnano. “We’ve got to be able to trust the guys two through five as much as we trust the guy who’s No. 1,” he said. “It’s a good group.”

Fagnano has some talented receivers, including Old Town’s Andre Miller, who was a preseason all-CAA selection. Miller is Maine’s big-play threat, averaging 17.9 yards on his 65 career receptions, with 11 touchdown catches. He’s joined by Devin Young (who opted out of the 2020-21 season because of coronavirus concerns), Zavier Scott (a transfer from Connecticut) as well as tight end Shawn Bowman, who had nine catches for 82 yards and a touchdown this spring.

At running back, both Freddie Brock and Elijah Barnwell ran well at times in the spring and will be pushed by Gay, who averaged 21.6 yards on kick returns. The offensive line has experienced starters across the board.

Defensively, Maine returns its four linemen from the spring – Jamehl Wiley, Khairi Manns, Austin Chambers and Josh Lezin – and hopes to compensate for the loss of Deshawn Stevens (transfer to West Virginia) with what Charlton calls “the deepest we’ve been since I’ve been here.” Ryan said the Black Bears can go six deep at the position. “The battle there is going to be fun to watch,” he said.

The secondary will also be boosted by the returns of Katley Joseph and Shaquille St-Lot, both of whom suffered knee injuries last year, as well as Fofie Bazzie, a transfer from Maryland who made an impact in the two spring games he played.

Although Maine was selected to finish ninth in the CAA in its preseason poll, Maine’s coaches said the experience gained last spring is invaluable.

“You can’t replicate game experience,” said Charlton. “There’s a confidence gained there which is big.”

NOTES: Maine announced the hiring of Andrea Perry as its director of football operations. Perry served in similar roles at North Carolina Central University (as assistant director of football operations) and Fresno State (athletic travel coordinator).


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.