ORONO – Most college football coaches won’t be caught comparing the exploits of a freshman to those of a departing, all-conference senior. Life as a Division I athlete is intimidating enough.

While publicly celebrating the records and honors of nose guard Mike DeVito, however, University of Maine head coach Jack Cosgrove surmised that the time was right to both challenge and encourage DeVito’s understudy, Jon Pirruccello of Turner.

“You try to make the first-year guys understand the process. They’re wide-eyed. They’re looking at these guys who’ve been here four or five years, and they don’t understand the process and how long it takes,” Cosgrove said. “Mike DeVito was setting all sorts of strength and conditioning records. That night, after we recognized Mike for all his records, I asked Jon to stand up because I had done a study.”

Cosgrove stacked DeVito and Pirruccello’s first-year training room data side-by-side.

Pirruccello was five pounds heavier than DeVito when he arrived on campus.

His beginning bench press and squat lift were 10 pounds greater, too.

“All the things Mike had done as a freshman, Jon was ahead of him already. So I said, ‘Jon, at the end of your career, if you’re on the same plan and you put the same effort and intensity and the same commitment into your work that Mike DeVito had, you can be Mike DeVito,'” Cosgrove said. “Now he’s wearing his number.”

Those might be the most daunting digits of all, because they’re the ones everyone at Alfond Stadium will see. And for the last four seasons, when Black Bears faithful watched No. 90 terrorize an opposing quarterback, they were witnessing one of the premier pass rushers in the Colonial Athletic Association.

While Pirruccello stood on that artificial turf field answering a reporter’s questions and posing for team pictures to christen his junior season, DeVito was in camp with the New York Jets as a free-agent signing.

Pressure? Just a little.

“It’s a compliment,” Pirruccello said of Cosgrove’s combined pep talk and history lesson, “but it’s also a big challenge for me.”

DeVito concluded his career with NFL prototype size: 6-foot-3, 298 pounds. Pirruccello, who was as tough on the basketball court as the gridiron at Leavitt Area High School, is the same height but begins his junior campaign listed at 247 pounds.

What’s more, the Massachusetts native DeVito fell into the traditional five-year program at Maine after a redshirt season. Due to injuries and depth chart limitations in 2005, Pirruccello was pressed into action as a true freshman, forcing him to use up that season of eligibility as an 18-year-old.

That quick turnaround might deny Pirruccello a chance to threaten DeVito’s records in the sweat shop, but it hasn’t hampered his progress on the field. Pirruccello has pushed senior Reggie Paramoure and Bruno Dorismond for a starting spot at defensive tackle.

“Some of the things that didn’t come as quickly to him in terms of his size, his growth, his development in the weight room, that’s happened more in the last year. His first year he kind of learned a little bit, but he’s grown tremendously physically to the point where we can have expectations of him as an inside player,” Cosgrove said. “Right now he’s competing to start for us. He’s one of our three guys who will play a lot of football inside.”

Pirruccello made one tackle in five games as a freshman. Last season, he chalked up six stops, three unassisted and one for loss, and recovered a fumble.

“I learned a lot from film sessions and whatnot. Just playing anywhere the coaches told me to on the defensive line,” Pirruccello said. “I’m looking forward to playing defensive tackle this year.”

Like many in-state athletes from smaller schools, Pirruccello started as a partial scholarship player at Maine.

Although the biology major was recruited, Pirruccello’s campus visit with parents Joseph and Carol was as meaningful to Cosgrove and the Black Bears as any game film.

“Our players do kind of a player test when they’re on campus, and they really liked him. That goes a lot into the extent that you want to recruit somebody,” Cosgrove said. “I think we’re getting a nice return on our investment.”

“It’s one of the best choices I’ve ever made,” Pirruccello said of his decision to forsake smaller schools and go to Maine. “I’ve had to earn everything along the way.”

Lofty comparisons, included.

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