PORTLAND — The rookie coach felt out of place at the third-annual State of Maine Chapter National Football Federation college kickoff luncheon.

Surrounding Niles Nelson at the dais were five grizzled veterans of the blackboard and the banquet circuit. Start with Jack Cosgrove of the University of Maine and Bates College’s Mark Harriman, each into his second decade at the helm.

Chris McKenney of Maine Maritime Academy is celebrating his ninth year of summer workouts. Bowdoin’s Dave Caputi is rapidly approaching a decade in charge. Colby’s Ed Mestieri has spent 21 years in Waterville, six as the White Mules’ head coach.

Then came Nelson, who wondered aloud if he could fulfill the request for a three-minute soliloquy about Husson University football.

Mission accomplished.

“You don’t hear about many 71-year-old guys getting hired to be a head coach in college football. Some of them stay around that long, but not to be given a job. I think I might be the first,” Nelson said.

Nelson’s eyes then circled the room until he found a familiar face, one who is more of a contemporary to the Eagles’ boss than any of his friends at the head table.

“I tried to get (former University of Maine coach) Walt Abbott to come out of retirement,” Nelson said, “but he’s getting too damn old and tired to be doing things.”

Husson turned from one of the Bangor area’s most enduring sideline figures to another as it continues to build the pigskin program it started from scratch fewer than 10 years ago.

Appointed earlier this summer to succeed the team’s founding father, Gabby Price, Nelson arrives at Husson after stops at Maine, Rhode Island and The Citadel as well as Bangor and Orono high schools.

Fit and trim in a polo shirt bearing the school’s green and gold colors, Nelson noted that he will defer to a group of similarly dressed guys young enough to be his grandchildren.

Three of Nelson’s assistant coaches have strong local ties: Walter Polky of Fayette and Winthrop High School; Shawn Demaray of Livermore Falls, a recent graduate of Maine; and Duncan Averill of Farmington and Mt. Blue.

“If they don’t screw it up, we’ll be OK,” Nelson ribbed. “I delegate stuff, so if there’s a problem, talk to them. Don’t talk to me.”

Leavitt Area High School product Mike Austin and Edward Little’s Travis Barnies are among Husson’s hopefuls this season.

Hope is a more tangible concept than usual headed into the autumn at Bates, where Harriman welcomes back 19 of 22 starters and 18 seniors.

“This is the first time in five or six years that we’ve had a real nucleus of both experience and depth,” Harriman said.

Of the five Division III programs represented Wednesday, none has celebrated as much recent success with as many tri-county contributors as McKenney’s Mariners.

Maine Maritime reached the New England Football Conference championship game in 2008, winning seven of its last eight regular-season games after an 0-2 start.

Former Leavitt quarterback Tyler Angell runs the triple option for Maine Maritime on the heels of a breakout year in which he accumulated over 1,200 yards and 16 total touchdowns.

Oxford Hills product Jim Bower set a league record with 25 touchdowns. Jay’s Nick Bourassa returned a pair of kicks for scores.

“We had 11 players on the all-division team last year, and nine were from Maine high schools,” McKenney said.

Defensive captain Travis Fergola (Mountain Valley) and Trevor McCourt (Jay) shine at linebacker for Maine Maritime. Mike Durrell of Livermore Falls and Andrew McCann of Mountain Valley are expected to start on the offensive line.

Led by defensive captain Jordan Stevens of Temple and sophomore all-purpose back Jared Turcotte of Lewiston, Maine is one of eight Colonial Athletic Association teams ranked in the Football Championship Subdivision Top 25.

“We need that league more than it needs us,” Cosgrove said. “We’ve produced three of the last five national champions.”

The reigning champ, Richmond, is Maine’s homecoming opponent, of all things.

“Yeah, don’t most schools do something different for that? Not us,” said Cosgrove. “We’ve got the national champions coming to town.”

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