WATERVILLE — All seemed loose with the Colby College football team Wednesday night.

After wrapping up practice, the team had a punt, pass and kick competition between the offensive and defensive linemen for the right to hoist a Styrofoam football trophy. Ultimately, longtime assistant coach Tom Dexter made a field goal to win the competition for the defensive linemen, with the group celebrating at midfield as if they had just won the Colby-Bates-Bowdoin trophy.

“It’s a tradition that we have here,” said Colby head coach Jack Cosgrove. “It’s a chance to give them the ability to shine. Obviously they don’t, so we have to dip into Coach Dexter to win it. We went into overtime, trying to make a field goal, still couldn’t make a field goal. In comes Dex, all 60 years old of him. And the celebration was really cool.”

Such is the mood for the Mules, who finished 4-5 in the New England Small College Athletic Conference last fall, and enter the 2023 season with 94 players, including 18 returners out of 22 positions on both sides of the ball.

There is, of course, one burning question the Mules face this offseason: Who will be their quarterback?

Colby graduated four-year starting quarterback Matt Hersch, leaving the job up for grabs. On Wednesday night, sophomore Miles Drake and junior Shane Baldwin — both of Darien, Connecticut — were taking the bulk of the snaps. Freshman Eli Soehren, who led Oxford Hills to the Class A state championship last season, is also in the mix.


“Any time you replace a guy who started for four years, there’s going to be some growing pains,” Sawyer said. “But everyone involved has really stepped up and not let the moment get to big for them. Just taking it day by day, little by little.

Cosgrove said plans were in place for each quarterback to get reps during the team’s intrasquad scrimmage Thursday night.

“We have the challenge of (picking) a new quarterback,” Cosgrove said. “But I’d rather have a lot of depth and experience in doing that than the other side of that, where you just don’t, so I feel really good about that.”

Still, the Mules have some weapons back on offense.

Colby’s Keon Smart (0) works out during practice Wednesday in Waterville. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

The running game is led by junior back Keon Smart, who rushed for 402 yards and five touchdowns on 106 carries last season. Smart is also a weapon in the passing game, as he had 33 receptions for 116 yards last year. At 5-foot-8 and 180 pounds, Smart’s height and build may remind some of former Jacksonville Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew. Smart — who has a solid mix of speed and power — patterns his game off another back.

“I’d describe my game as swift but subtle,” Smart said. “I study my game after (former Pittsburgh Steelers running back) Le’Veon Bell. I (looked at) a lot of his abilities and patterned it into my own game.”


“We’ve got a great group of guys this year,” added junior wide receiver Jack Sawyer. “The whole process really started in the offseason. In the spring, we got out a couple of times as a group, just throwing the ball around. We kept in touch over the summer, I think we got a lot better than in past years. Culturally, it speaks to itself, and now we just need to get the results.”

A tall target at 6-foot-2, Sawyer had 28 receptions for 415 yards and three scores to lead the receivers last season.

Colby returns a strong defensive unit — it was third in team defense in the NESCAC last year, allowing 318 yards per game

“We’ve got a real good group of young men, fun to coach,” said Cosgrove, who has run the program since 2018. “They’re really responsive to us. I don’t think we’ve had a bad practice. It’s really been outstanding to see how much progress we’ve made, how tuned into the opportunity that they have. It’s a pretty veteran team, with a lot of guys back from last year.”

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