University of Maine running back Tristen Kenan (22) was named Coastal Athletic Association Rookie of the Week after rushing for a game-high 108 yards in the Black Bears’ 14-12 loss at Florida International on Saturday night. Courtesy of University of Maine athletics

ORONO — When senior running back Tavion Banks suffered a shoulder injury last week in practice, University of Maine football coach Jordan Stevens had no hesitation turning over the starting job to true freshman Tristen Kenan in the season opener Saturday nught at Florida International.

Tristen Kenan

“Since the first day of camp, he’s shown he has the elusiveness, the quickness, the feet that a really great back can have in this league,” Stevens said. “When he was going to be the starter going into the game, we kind of anticipated him having a productive day, but it was certainly good to see him have the day he had.”

Making his collegiate debut just a few months after graduating from Dunbar High in Baltimore, Kenan had 24 carries for a game-high 108 yards along with three catches for 26 yards. He scored Maine’s lone touchdown in a 14-12 loss to FIU, a Football Bowl Subdivision program. For his efforts, Kenan was named Coastal Athletic Association Rookie of the Week. His 108 yards on the ground were the most by a Maine true freshman in five years.

Stevens said there’s no timetable for Banks’ return.

After Tuesday morning’s practice, the 5-foot-10, 195-pound Kenan displayed the confidence Stevens and his coaching staff saw right from the start.

“It felt pretty good. It felt like living my dream. I feel like I could’ve done way better, so that was just getting my feet wet,” Kenan said.


“Most freshmen don’t expect to jump right into it. They expect to redshirt, but that’s the type of guy I am. I expected to play right away. I knew I was going to get here and work on it, and show something.”

Kenan was instrumental in helping Dunbar go undefeated each of the last two seasons, winning back-to-back Maryland state titles. Kenan ran for 212 yards in the 2021 state championship game as a junior. Over his final two seasons of high school football, Kenan ran for 3,500 yards and 45 touchdowns.

One thing Kenan didn’t do in high school is fumble, but he put the ball on the turf twice Saturday night. The first time, on the Florida International 25 early in the first quarter, resulted in a turnover. The second time, with 5:25 left in the game, Kenan recovered the ball.

He was relieved the coaches showed confidence to keep giving him the ball after the fumbles, but he knows the mistakes have to stop.

“It meant everything to see they would continue to put the ball in my hands,” Kenan said. “Fumbling is something I don’t do. I didn’t fumble at all last year. This was my first college game. I guess I had to get it out of the way. I want more than 100-yard games. I want a 200-yard game, multiple touchdowns, keep improving week to week and getting better.”

When it was time to choose a school, Maine’s location was a big selling point.


“Coach Stevens and Coach Brown (running backs coach Pushaun Brown) were always calling me, coming to my house, making sure the family was good,” he said. “Maine is isolated. It’s not in the big city. I can just isolate myself and work on bettering myself. Nothing to do but work and get to class.”

Saturday night, Kenan averaged 4.5 yards per carry, with a long of 19 yards.

His touchdown came on a 5-yard run with 8:59 left in the third quarter. After taking the handoff from quarterback Derek Robertson, Kenan took a few steps up the middle before cutting right to the outside, outracing everybody to the end zone.

Kenan said his welcome to college football moment came with each hit. Stevens saw Kenan’s toughness on display on one hit in the fourth quarter, a helmet-to-helmet collision after which Kenan popped right back up. This week’s game, at powerhouse North Dakota State in the Fargo Dome full of boisterous fans Saturday, will be another new experience for Kenan.

“I think Tristen has the makeup where it doesn’t matter where he is, he’s going to go play football. That’s the great thing about him. He’s young so he’s a little naive that way, which is really good. He’s unfazed by most things,” Stevens said.

STEVENS DEFENDED HIS decision to go for it Saturday night on fourth-and-3 at the Florida International 6 late in the third quarter, passing up what would have been a 24-yard field-goal try that could have given Maine a 15-14 lead. At that point, Black Bears kicker Cody Williams had made field goals of 48 and 28 yards, and missed from 42.

On fourth down, Kenan was stopped after a 1-yard gain and Maine turned the ball over on downs, still trailing 14-12.

“We were in the third quarter there. I think at that time we want to be aggressive and we want to score touchdowns. So, we’re in the third quarter with a lot of football left and felt good about how we were running the ball,” Stevens said. “We felt good about how we were playing on defense, knowing that we were going to be able to get back down there. Unfortunately, we didn’t.”

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