When hired as the University of Maine football coach in early December, Jordan Stevens put recruiting at the top of his to-do list. During Wednesday’s national signing day, Stevens’ first recruiting class included plenty of in-state talent.

“It’s a great start,” said Stevens, a Mt. Blue High grad and former Black Bears captain. “These guys all have the ability to play and contribute right away, but they’re all going to benefit from the developmental piece, being able to come in and train and lift and grow in the right direction.”

Of the 12 players announced Wednesday, four are high school seniors from Maine: Bonny Eagle teammates Thomas Horton, a defensive lineman, and Zac Oja, a running back; quarterback Jack Emerson of Thornton Academy; and offensive lineman Jack Boutaugh of Leavitt. Each is a preferred walk-on, meaning while they receive no athletic scholarship, they will have roster spots in the fall. Stevens said he likes the athleticism of the four Mainers and is excited for their potential and upside.

Lineman Thomas Horton of Bonny Eagle is one of three finalists for the Fitzpatrick Trophy. Ben McCanna / Portland Press Herald

Horton said he was impressed by both the engineering program and football team in a recent visit to Orono.

“It’s not too far from home, and my first choice was to stay in Maine,” said Horton, who recently won the Gaziano Trophy as the top senior offensive lineman in the state, and is a finalist for the Fitzpatrick Trophy, awarded to Maine’s top senior football player. “It’s always been a dream as a Maine kid to play at Maine.”

While Horton was recently honored for his play on Bonny Eagle’s offensive line, the Black Bears plan to use the 6-foot, 260-pound Horton on the defensive line.


“I think I’ll really enjoy playing defensive line. There’s something special about getting into the backfield to stuff a run or sacking the quarterback,” Horton said.

Leavitt senior Jack Boutaugh (67) is one of four Mainers among Jordan Stevens’ first recruiting class at UMaine. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

A finalist for the Gaziano Trophy on the defensive side, the 6-4, 260-pound Boutaugh was also a standout offensive lineman at Leavitt. Like Horton, Boutaugh was attracted to Maine’s engineering program and location.

“It’s nice to stay in my home state,” Boutaugh said. “It’s a chance to play Division I. Nearing the end of my senior season is when I thought it was possible.”

The class also includes two transfers, tight end Cooper Heisey from Rutgers and defensive back Aaron Gethers from Western Carolina. Gethers started eight games for Western Carolina last season, making 26 tackles with five pass breakups. In three years at Rutgers, Heisey saw action in four games while transitioning from quarterback to tight end.

“We have a lot of young guys at (tight end), and being able to fill in the depth there with a transfer was important,” Stevens said. “The same goes for adding a transfer in the secondary with Aaron Gathers. We needed to add depth.”

Wednesday’s signees join two players who committed to Maine in the early signing period last fall: wide receiver  Rohan Jones of Montreal, and quarterback Ayden Pereira of Auburn, New Hampshire.

The newcomers help to begin filling the void left by the departure of a number of key players. Linebacker Ray Miller and defensive back Fofie Bazzie are graduating after leading the Black Bears in tackles last season. Offensively, wide receivers Andre Miller, an Old Town native, and Devin Young are gone after combining for 93 catches for 1,269 yards and six touchdowns last season.

The Black Bears went 6-5 in 2021, 4-4 in Colonial Athletic Association play. Maine is scheduled to open the 2022 season Sept. 3 at New Mexico. The home opener will be Sept. 10 against Colgate.

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