ORONO – Shawn Demaray and Jacob Folz are the grown-up poster children for underappreciated, barely recruited Maine high school football players yearning to play at the state university.

They arrived on the practice field in 2003 with half a scholarship between them; both wide-eyed, smart but coach-able, with room to grow physically.

Guarantees were non-existent, save one head coach Jack Cosgrove and his staff issue every flock of freshmen: Give us a reason to put you on the field, and we will.

The Black Bears’ braintrust has seen enough.

When Maine opens the season Saturday, Sept. 1 at home against Monmouth University, Demaray, a 6-foot-2, 280-pound senior from Livermore Falls, will be firmly entrenched as the left tackle. He’s a Colonial Athletic Association pre-season first team selection.

Folz, a 6-3, 274-pound senior from West Paris by way of Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School, is likely to line up next to Demaray at left guard. Or perhaps two doors down at center. Maybe even right tackle, where Folz started the final six games last season.

“We have two seniors, three juniors and then two other juniors who are right there,” said Demaray. “It’s an experienced line. We have seven guys who have experience and can play here.”

“We’ve all got some starts under our belts,” added Folz. “We want to play together and win together.”

Demaray enters his third season as the mainstay of that unit, riding a streak of 22 consecutive starts.

To a man, Demaray and his classmates feel a need for atonement after last fall’s finishing kick. Actually, it turned out to be more of a kick in the pants. Maine lost three conference contests by a total of 11 points and slipped from a certain playoff berth in the Division I Football Championship Subdivision (formerly I-AA) to a 6-5 mark.

“It was definitely a rough season, but I feel that we didn’t have our heads down,” said Demaray. “All off-season we worked hard. The summer we had almost the whole team working together, bonding and just trying to get better.”

Demaray played offensive line and middle linebacker at Class C Livermore Falls, shining at a level where most top players rate looks from Division III colleges but rarely blink on Division I radar screens.

“You know, Livermore Falls: I don’t know that many people would call that a football factory,” Cosgrove said. “He came in with a partial scholarship, but he’s earned a full scholarship and a tremendous leadership role on the team.”

With so many other Division I tackles cresting the 300-pound threshold, Demaray’s success protecting the quarterback’s blind side is a credit to his quickness.

He made only one appearance as a redshirt freshman in 2004, against Northern Colorado. Somewhat the utility man while starting at tackle and both guard positions and even sipping a cup of coffee at center in 2005, Demaray’s unwavering commitment to the Black Bears’ strength and conditioning program made him an ideal bookend in ’06.

“You usually see a taller kid out there at the tackle spot, but Shawn is athletic enough to be out there to handle those wide rush, fast guys,” Cosgrove said. “Sometimes you give up a couple inches in height for a couple split seconds in quickness and reaction time.”

Folz entered his freshman year as a preferred walk-on, a status that afforded him even fewer assurances than Demaray.

After the obligatory redshirt season, Folz appeared in one game in 2004 and three in 2005 before crashing the starting lineup and putting his mitts on a scholarship last fall.

“It was definitely nice to see all the hard work pay off. That’s the goal that I had in mind when I came here,” Folz said. “The biggest difference I noticed was the absolute speed of the game. Everyone was as big as me and as strong as me if not bigger and stronger. They were all good players and they were all scholarship players. It just took a long time and a lot of hard work to make myself as good as they are.”

Rarely does any front five make it through a season without a lost-time injury. That makes a player with Folz’s versatility worth his weight in gold to Cosgrove.

“What we’re trying to do is get our best five linemen on the field. Jacob gives you some athleticism and a great working knowledge of those different spots,” said the coach. “That essentially adds another man to your depth chart.”

Maine’s two senior linemen have a message for high school players who share their small-town sensibilities and the same aspirations that fueled them five years ago.

“All I can say that I worked hard and never gave up and that’s what you’ve really got to do. You can’t come in thinking that you can’t play here, otherwise you won’t play here. You have to be ready to outwork everyone,” Demaray said.

“It’s definitely a place they can come and be successful. Maine guys have always been successful here,” echoed Folz. “Coming from Maine, it might take a little more work and a little more time, but they have just as much ability and just as much talent as everyone else, and they’ll have just as much opportunity.”

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