Redshirt freshman Derek Robertson will start at quarterback for the University of Maine against Merrimack on Saturday. He entered last week’s game at James Madison after Joe Fagnano suffered an injury. Ronnie Gillis photo

Growing up in Yonkers, New York, Derek Robertson watched his older brothers Jimmy and Dennis, play quarterback and knew that’s what he wanted to do.

“I looked up to them,” said Robertson, a redshirt freshman for the University of Maine football team. “I wanted to be like them and do what they did.”

He followed them at Iona Prep and is now following their lead into the college ranks. Jimmy Robertson attended Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, where he set school passing records, and is now the head football coach at Fairleigh Dickinson; Dennis Robertson played four years at Susquehanna University.

Now Derek Robertson, who played a prep year at Bridgton Academy in 2019, will make his first collegiate start Saturday against Merrimack College at Alfond Stadium in Orono, replacing the injured Joe Fagnano.

Fagnano suffered a high right ankle sprain in the first quarter of Saturday’s 55-7 loss to No. 2 James Madison and will be out “4 to 6 weeks” according to Coach Nick Charlton. Robertson came on in relief and completed 8 of 22 passes for 88 yards and a touchdown. He also threw an interception.

“Derek stepped into a pretty adverse environment, and did it without a full week of practice in terms of  preparation,” said Charlton. “He played well overall, made some mistakes out there, some misthrows. But he stepped in and handled it and didn’t bat an eye. Derek’s not afraid of the moment.”

Bridgton Academy Coach Rick Marcella noticed the same thing about Robertson.

“He’s been very well trained,” said Marcella, noting the impact his brothers had on him. “He’s like Cool Hand Luke. You can’t pressure him. He doesn’t get rattled.”

Bridgton went 8-2 in Robertson’s season there, as he completed 164 of 284 passes for 2,284 yards and 20 touchdowns. Maine was the only NCAA Division I program to offer Robertson a scholarship. He was more than happy to accept.

“I mean, I love everything about this football program,” he said. “I felt comfortable every time I visited here. It feels like a family, to be honest.”

Maine was always in on Robertson, even when he was in high school. But Charlton said the Black Bears didn’t have a scholarship to offer until other quarterbacks transferred. Once one became available, they quickly offered it to Robertson. “He ‘s done nothing but impressed us,” said Charlton.

The Black Bears’ coaching staff is confident Robertson is going to keep the offense moving. So are his teammates.

“Obviously losing Joe is a big blow to the offense,” said tight end Shawn Bowman. “But I don’t think we miss a beat with Derek. He’s always locked in with what we’ve got going on. When we’re watching film, Derek has always been with us, even in summer. I’m fully confident in him, the whole offense is fully confident in him.”

Part of the reason for that is the way Robertson performed last spring and in training camp this fall. When he was with the starters, said Charlton, there was no drop-off. “If the ball moves, that means things are going well,” said Charlton. “That’s an indication of someone ready to play.”

“As the No. 2 guy, Derek didn’t get a lot of reps with the 1s,” said Andrew Dresner, Maine’s offensive coordinator. “But he has the ability to lock into the (reps) he isn’t taking and show that he has a grasp of what we’re doing. He’s good in film study, takes extra work after practice and is ready now because he prepared like he was taking the (No. 1) snaps.”

Charlton said Maine will have to tweak its offense to fit Robertson’s skills, but only slightly. He’s not the runner Fagnano is and he probably doesn’t throw the deep ball as well as Fagnano.

But Dresner said his intermediate range passing is excellent and he, like Fagnano, possesses the ability to sidestep a pass rush and extend a play.

“They’re similar in their knowledge,” said Dresner. “They’re both smart kids, love football, and want to be perfect in what  they do.”

Marcella said Robertson’s ability “to understand the defense he’s going to face, and his ability to make the right throw, shows he is mature beyond his years.”

Robertson, who is studying business finance, said he doesn’t have to do too much.

“I think I get the ball to my playmakers, let them do the work in space,” he said. “I feel I make the right decisions, which will help the team win.”

Robertson, 20, is grateful for his one football season at Bridgton. “It matured me a little bit,” he said. “It gave me the extra time which I felt I needed.”

He joined the Black Bears in January 2020. A little over a month later, the coronavirus pandemic shut down the school, sending everyone home to work out on their own.

Once everyone was able to return, he has spent as much time as he could with Fagnano, who is one of his closest friends, and the receivers. That, said Bowman, is why everyone is confident Robertson will get the job done.

“He’s been right there,” said Bowman. “Always preparing as if he were the starter.”


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