ORONO – The number was everywhere coaches and players turned this summer in University of Maine football camp.

Every time a set of eyes and ears opened, those digits squirmed their way through the door. They might as well have been stamped on everyone’s forehead.

Eleven.

Yes, it’s the number of players on the football field at one time.

Sure, it’s the traditional number of a games on a Division I-AA regular-season schedule.

But most significantly, it’s the total tally of points that cost Maine three games, an undefeated conference championship season and a certain playoff berth last season.

“We had a good run at the beginning of the year, but we didn’t finish. This year we’re trying to score those points we need to score to go to the playoffs,” said senior offensive tackle Shawn Demaray of Livermore Falls. “One or two plays in a game went a long way toward helping the other team and costing us the game. We were in every game last year.”

Maine’s 11-step recovery program from last autumn’s disappointment begins at 6 p.m. Saturday, when the Black Bears host Monmouth University in a Division I-AA non-conference game at Alfond Stadium.

Fifteen starters – eight offensive, seven defensive – return from a team that started 5-2 in 2006. One of those two losses was a 22-0 verdict at Boston College.

Then came a 3-0 loss at Rhode Island in a torrential rainstorm, closely followed by a 10-9 defeat at Massachusetts on a missed extra point and a 19-13 overtime stumble against New Hampshire.

“Our motto this year is just finish,” said sophomore linebacker Jordan Stevens of Temple. “Finish every play and finish every game.”

Demaray and fellow senior Jacob Folz of West Paris lead a veteran offensive line that returns four starters and seven players with significant experience. That group will protect a new quarterback.

Mike Brusko won a tight battle with Adam Farkes for the privilege of succeeding Atlantic-10 (now Colonial Athletic Conference) Student-Athlete of the Year Ron Whitcomb.

“Most people don’t realize it,” said Maine coach Jack Cosgrove, himself a former Black Bears QB, “but we’ve basically had only four starting quarterbacks at the University of Maine the last 16 years.”

As a sophomore, Brusko is a rarity in that thread of four-year starters that began with Emilio Colon and continued through Mickey Fein, Jake Eaton and Whitcomb.

The surrounding talent level is enough to lighten the load on Brusko’s shoulders. Jhamal Fluellen, a transfer from Syracuse, is set to succeed Arel Gordon at tailback after emerging as an all-purpose home run threat in a reserve role last season.

Depending upon down-and-distance situations, Fluellen may share the backfield with senior fullback Anthony Cotrone or freshman Jared Turcotte at H-back.

Demaray, Folz, Ryan Canary, Christopher Arnao and Christopher Parcells are the O-line holdovers. Tight end Matt Mulligan is a senior, too.

“We’re trying to emphasize that we feel like we’ve got a pretty skilled football team that can play with anybody in this conference,” said Cosgrove. “This conference is so, so equal that we’ve got to find a way to separate ourselves.”

That separation could come from a defense that is strong on speed.

Stevens is slotted as a starting rover linebacker in Maine’s 4-3. John Wormuth and Andrew Downey strengthen the heart of Maine’s resistance.

Reggie Paramoure and Bruno Dorismond are getting a push from Turner’s Jon Pirruccello at tackle. Joavn Belcher and Patrick McCrossan line up at end, with Lionel Nixon, Troy Harris, Jon Calderon and Lamir Whetstone in the secondary.

After reaching the I-AA quarterfinals with the program’s first postseason win in 2002, Maine is a game above .500 at 23-22 over the last four years.

“For whatever reason, our record has been pretty average,” Cosgrove said. “We looked at some things and realized that we lost a lot of close football games. That speaks to some of those intangible things like how well we work together as a team, how good our leadership is and how our poise is in close games.

“We’ve tried to stress some of those things and create some situations in practice that are maybe more chaotic than the norm, maybe more stressful than the norm, and get them to think and get some of them to step up as leaders.”

Big dates on Maine’s schedule include a trip to I-AA Connecticut on Sept. 8 and a home encounter with Massachusetts on Sept. 22.

Game No. 11? It’s at UNH on Nov. 17.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.