The University of Maine football team began spring practices on Wednesday April 4, officially kicking off their 2018 season. The team is looking to improve upon their 2017 run, which saw them end with a record of 4-6, good for seventh place in the CAA. Although the team is less than two weeks into practice, Head Coach Joe Harasymiak is pleased with what he’s seen so far.
“It’s been going really well, spring ball for us is really about development,” Harasymiak said. “All the seniors are gone and graduated, so we have a lot of guys running around and trying new spots,” Harasymiak added.
Notable departures for the Black Bears include defensive backs DeAndre Scott and Najee Goode, along with offensive tackle and NFL hopeful Jamil Demby. Star running back Joshua Mack also left, opting to transfer to a higher-level program for his final two years in college. Mack proved to be Maine’s most valuable asset on offense in 2017. The Rochester, New York native led the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) in rushing yards with 1,335 on 243 carries and also hauled in 30 catches for 209 yards. With Mack out of the picture, Maine now will rely on a trio of backs to split time at the position.
“We got plenty of guys that are ready to go,” Harasymiak said in regards to the running back position. “Joe Fitzpatrick is back, he did a great job for us last year. We have two redshirt freshmen that are outstanding, and that we’re really excited about. We’ll fill the role and we’ll be good,” Harasymiak said.
Fitzpatrick played well behind Mack in 2017, compiling 382 yards on 64 carries while scoring a touchdown.
Harasymiak has reason to be excited about the new duo of running backs as well. Outside of them, the team landed one if it’s biggest recruiting classes in the last decade. The Black Bears have 23 new faces coming in and may have a chance to get four to five more players in the process.
On top of all the new players, Maine has many key returning players too. Star wide receiver Micah Wright is expected to be ready by the start of the actual season. Wright is coming off ACL surgery and is currently not practicing with the team. Second-year quarterback Chris Ferguson is back, and has a year of experience under his belt. Ferguson is looking to build off a solid first-year campaign which saw him throw for 2,064 yards along with 16 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. In the early goings of practice, Ferguson is already flashing signs of improvement.
“He’s got a better command of everything and his decision making has been better,” Harasymiak said. “The mental side of it is where we really want to see the progress,” Harasymiak added.
Harasymiak always stresses the importance of having a good mentality, something team failed to be consistent in last season. The Black Bears proved to be a tough test for most opponents in 2017, but let games get away from them in the fourth quarter. They ended their season by blowing a 12-point fourth quarter lead against Stony Brook, and also lost games against the University of New Hampshire (UNH) and Delaware, both of which were tied going into the fourth.
“To compete with teams that win titles, we need to take a step in the fourth quarter. It comes down to the mental side and being tough enough to make those plays,” Harasymiak said. “Certainly we’re more experienced in those games now and we’re creating environments in practice that simulate being tired and having to make plays in the fourth quarter.”
If Maine can make those fourth quarter plays Harasymiak talks about, it could be the difference between a six win season and a nine or 10 win season. Either way, Maine has plenty of things to be excited about in the 2018 season, including a Thursday night showdown against rival University of New Hampshire to start the year. It’s a home game for the Black Bears and Harasymiak admitted he wants to bring the prized Brice-Cowell Musket back to Maine. The musket is a special trophy that has been a staple of the Maine and New Hampshire rivalry for decades.
“We got to beat them, we want the musket back,” Harasymiak said.
Maine has a tough schedule to work with for the first few weeks, taking on Western Kentucky, Central Michigan and Yale after that opening matchup with the Wildcats. If they can win any of those games, even with the departures they have had to overcome, it should give them the momentum necessary to be a tough matchup for the rest of the conference.