BRUNSWICK — Years ago, Jack Cosgrove would drive past Colby College thousands of times, paying the school little attention.

As the head football coach at America’s northeasternmost Division I football program, Cosgrove was consistently headed south on Interstate 95 for his recruiting endeavors. Yet when the former University of Maine’s all-time wins leader came to the Waterville college the first time, he was far from familiar with the school where he now roams the sidelines.

“I had never been on the campus before I came here,” Cosgrove said at Monday’s Maine Chapter of the National Football Foundation luncheon at Bowdoin College. “I mean, why would I have been? We never played Colby, so I had no reason to. I had only driven by it on those recruiting trips.”

Yet ever since arriving at Colby to take the head football coaching job, Cosgrove has become more and more enamored with a college that has seen tenfold improvements, both in its institutional stature and its athletic facilities. As he begins his fourth season with the Mules, his team has expectations of finally turning the corner.

Colby went 4-5 last season, a two-win improvement from the team’s previous campaign in 2019. The Mules won three of their last five games, including victories over rivals Bates and Bowdoin that gave the team its third consecutive CBB Trophy.

This year, the Mules will have a potent passing game with the return of three-year starter Matt Hersch at quarterback as well as those of the team’s top-three receivers — Jack Sawyer, Matt Panker and Brendan Sawyer. Keon Smart, a running back who also contributed in the receiving game, is back for Colby in the backfield.


Defensively, Colby has kept its top-nine tacklers from a unit that allowed a respectable 20.4 points per game a year ago, including Marc Dougherty and Will Nipon. Another returning starter, Javon Williams, anchored the defensive backfield for the Mules last year after losing his first two college years of football to injuries and COVID-19.

University of Maine football coach Jordan Stevens, left, greets Colby College coach Jack Cosgrove, right, at a Maine college football luncheon Monday at Bowdoin College in Brunswick. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

Yet the biggest strength of this Colby team, Cosgrove said, lies in its depth. That’s something the Mules didn’t have when Cosgrove took over after a one-win 2017 season. In fact, the team had just seven offensive linemen on the roster when he arrived for his first football camp at the school.

“We had a roster of 65 people, and we had to steal guys over from defense to play offensive line for us,” Cosgrove said. “Now, we’re at 90 players, and we have 17 offensive linemen. We’ve developed a team that has depth and versatility, which are things you need in this game.”

Cosgrove’s Colby team is going to be tested very early on this season. After opening the year at home Sept. 17 against a Williams College team that beat them 42-0 in 2021, the Mules will then head on the road to face a Trinity College team that defeated them 35-12 in last year’s matchup.

In past years, that might have been a challenge too great for a Colby team that’s now gone 17 years without a winning record. Cosgrove, though, thinks this year’s team has the talent and experience to break the mold.

“I think we’re in a better situation now,” Cosgrove said. “We’ll be bringing in 20 first-year players, and we have 69 returning players. … It’s really a team that, over the course of time, has built itself up.”



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Before leaving Maine, Cosgrove coached thousands of players during his time with the Black Bears. Now, one of those former players has ascended to Cosgrove’s old post — and he’s one that might be familiar to those in central Maine.

Jordan Stevens was chosen in December as the 37th head coach in the history of the Maine football team. Stevens, who played for the Black Bears from 2006-09, previously played at Mt. Blue of Farmington, where he was a member of the Cougars’ 2005 Eastern Maine title-winning team.

The Stevens family has been a part of the sports scene for generations at Mt. Blue. His father, David, was an acclaimed player for the Cougars, and his grandfather, Bob, was athletic director at Mt. Blue from 1968-82 and also served as the school’s head boys basketball coach.


“My dad got me into football; I remember I would always go through his old scrapbooks,” Stevens said. “He coached me in youth sports, and with my grandfather coaching basketball, coaching was always something that’s been around my family.”

Stevens, 34, is the latest in a line of young new Maine head coaches following Joe Harasymiak and Nick Charlton, both of whom were 30 when they began their respective tenures in 2016 and 2019. Yet starting on the younger side isn’t new to Stevens, who was the youngest player on the field for Mt. Blue youth football camps.

“Even before I was eligible, I would go to the camp and do the camp for a week,” Stevens said. “I’ve just always wanted to be involved with football. … Now, to be at the college where I played and to be the head coach, it just shows you can go anywhere.” 


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Giving his thoughts on the state of the Bowdoin football program to those in attendance, B.J. Hammer made an analogy of a recent trip he took with his family. 

In mid-July, Hammer, his wife and his two kids traveled to Orlando for a family trip. That vacation, as is often the case with families with young children, included a trip to Disney World that gave the Bowdoin head coach some perspective on coaching.

“You’re in line for 60 minutes, and when you have a 7- or 10-year-old, that takes a lot of patience right there,” Hammer said. “That’s what we’re stressing here: It takes patience. It does. You have to earn it six days a week with mental and physical toughness and accountability.”

Indeed, turning around a program like Bowdoin, which has gone 2-42 with three winless seasons since 2016, isn’t something that happens overnight. Instead, it takes small steps along the way, and Hammer’s Polar Bears are in position to take the next of those steps in 2022.

Offensively, Bowdoin brings back a potent quarterback in Andrew Boel as well as a top running back in Andre Eden, who led the NESCAC in rushing with 1,000 yards last season. The Polar Bears also return a veteran offensive line led by fifth-year senior Brandon Krupp.

On defense, nearly every player returns for Bowdoin this fall. That includes Drew Ortiz, an all-conference selection who registered 49 tackles  — 12 1/2 for loss — 4 1/2 sacks and two forced fumbles last year, and Dan Fiore, who led the team in tackles with 56.

Despite going just 1-8 last year, Bowdoin was competitive in many of its losses with three defeats coming by a single score. Although moral victories don’t mean much in college athletics, they’re also signs that the Polar Bears might not be all that far away.

“I can tell you right now: The depth is there, and we have never had that before here at Bowdoin in my time,” Hammer said. “The talent is there, too. … We’re ready to keep building.”

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