Football: Black Bears get in last licks of spring

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ORONO — The way University of Maine football coaches configure the team’s annual Jeff Cole Spring Scrimmage, the Black Bears’ defense might walk away feeling like the Washington Generals.

Just as the famed Harlem Globetrotters’ foil are historically doomed to failure on the basketball court, Maine defenders Saturday were set up like victims on a TV show celebrating practical jokes.

Defense is “blue” and offense is “white,” for starters, rendering the scoreboard meaningless. Maine quarterbacks air it out after roughly two of every three snaps in the controlled environment. And most of the plays are pulled from either the two-minute or red zone pages of the book.

“They put us in certain situations where the ball is on the plus side of the field, and it’s just our job to stop it,” said linebacker Levi Ervin of Lisbon. “When you get challenges like that in a game after a punt return or whatever, you’ve got to go put the fire out. We’re like the fire department.”

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Don’t shed too many tears for the resistance, though.

This may have been a case of turnabout-is-fair-play. Or perhaps it was the brainchild of a coaching staff determined to administer an injection of self-confidence into the arms that needed it most at the conclusion of spring practice.

“There were good signs and a positive note for the offense. The defense has kind of had their way this spring, so it’s good to see the offensive have some success,” said Maine coach Jack Cosgrove. “I thought all three quarterbacks threw the ball well. We caught the ball well. Some younger guys got a chance to shine and develop and show what they can do. All positive things toward becoming a better football team.”

Only two of the four local players on Maine’s 2010 roster set foot on the field Saturday.

Ervin saw time at linebacker and on special teams, where he was joined by freshman running back Mack Tozier of Monmouth.

Lewiston running back Jared Turcotte sat out the game while continuing his comeback from sports hernia surgery. And redshirt freshman Doug Nash, a Leavitt Area High School graduate, stood on the sideline wearing a uniform but no pads for medical reasons.

“The past couple weeks I’ve been sick. It was a viral infection that turned into bronchitis and pneumonia,” said Nash, a 6-foot-4, 240-pound defensive tackle. “The doctor said I’m getting better. If it had been a regular season thing, I might have been able to suit up. He said that if I went today it would probably start me back at day one.”

Now a fifth-year senior, Ervin was rebounding from injury at this time a year ago.

Saturday he was free to roam the middle and battle for playing time at linebacker, where he’s listed as a second-team contributor in the preseason.

He made at least two tackles, embellishing a reputation that is already rock-solid in his primary role on punt and kick coverage.

“I’ve really embraced my spot on special teams. I love it. It’s something that I take pride in,” Ervin said. “We talk about how it takes a special guy to play special teams, and how everybody on our special teams has to want to be there. It’s kind of a mentality that you’ve got to have.”

Ervin made seven tackles in his sophomore season-opener against Iowa before a Week 3 injury shortened his season.

Back at full strength, he tallied 21 stops and a fumble recovery last fall.

Now 22 years old, Ervin carries the healthy swagger of a fifth-year senior.

“It feels like it went by quick, but at the same time it feels like I’ve been here forever,” he said. “You see a lot. You recognize things a lot more. It definitely helps just knowing the plays and the playbook because you’ve been here so long.”

Like his elder teammate, Nash has learned the value of a year in the film and weight rooms.

Don’t take the redshirt label as a sign of inactivity, in other words. Nash already has moved from defensive end to nose guard in his first nine months. Now coaches are considering a switch to offensive line.

Nash played on both sides of the line of scrimmage in high school.

“It’s definitely a learning experience. Since you don’t play in any games, you take in a lot. Especially compared to high school, there are a lot more things going on,” Nash said. “I’m just waiting to see about this year. Nothing is set in stone. I want to play wherever I’m most likely to play, I guess.”

Former Leavitt star Jonathan Pirrucello, a two-year starter and four-year contributor on Maine’s defense, helped pave Nash’s path to Division I-AA football.

“Jon texted me a couple times last year with just kind of words of encouragement, so that’s always helpful,” Nash said.

No fewer than four 2009 graduates will join Maine’s seven active NFL players at pro camps this summer, opening the door for hopefuls such as Ervin and Nash.

The free-flowing nature of the depth chart also fostered a brand of in-house competition that makes any coach smile.

“You can’t have enough of that,” Cosgrove said. “The more of that you have, the better off you’re going to be.”

koakes@sunjournal.com

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