ORONO — Even though he was just relaxing with his teammates on media day, no one looked happier to be standing on Morse Field than Levi Ervin Wednesday.

Ervin, a junior linebacker from Lisbon Falls, suffered an ACL tear in the third game of the 2008 season, the home opener against Stony Brook, and was sidelined for the Black Bears’ run to the FCS playoffs. 

“I’ve never been hurt before, so it was kind of difficult at first,” Ervin said. “Especially with the success that we had last year, it was kind of tough to be on the sidelines.”

The 6-foot-2, 215-pound Ervin rehabbed with Maine trainers two hours a day in the fall, winter and spring.

“It’s a pretty grueling recovery program,” Ervin said. “I had surgery Oct. 3. The first six months is kind of hard. The worst part is you feel like you want to do more but you really can’t. But eventually things started loosening up and it got better and better and better. It feels great now.”

He now wears a brace and a sleeve on the knee, but other than some soreness, has felt no ill effects since training camp opened Saturday.

Ervin moved from safety to linebacker last season and is making another adjustment from the strong side to the back (weak) side. 

“It’s kind of a new position in itself there, but at the same time, being that close to the ball feels a lot more comfortable,” he said.

Ervin is listed No. 2 on the linebacker depth chart behind sophomore Donte Dennis. He hopes to earn more playing time there by continuing to impress his coaches on special teams, where he made a big impression in his brief stint last year.

“Levi is a guy we’re counting on to provide depth at the linebacker spot and compete for the starting position and also on special teams,” Maine coach Jack Cosgrove said. “There are always guys that embrace special teams a little more than others, guys who get their swagger from that, and Levi is one of those guys.”

Nash a new Bear

Among the 31 freshmen participating in their first week of practices is former Leavitt star Doug Nash, who is settling in on the interior line.

Nash, whose father, Steven, is a Maine alum, attended a number of Maine games and practices over the last 10 years and said he felt most at home in Orono.

“My father, aunts and uncles and grandfather have all come to this school, so it’s kind of a family tradition,” said Nash, who also considered Maine Maritime and Bowdoin. “I watched some scrimmages this time last year and I liked the whole aspect of the football team, plus they have a great chemical engineering program here, which is my major.”

The 6-foot-4, 240-pound Nash has been working the early practice sessions at nose guard, where he could one day succeed another Leavitt product, Jonathan Pirruccello, a two-year starter who graduated last spring.

“He told me it gets hard but all the hard work will pay off in the end,” said Nash, an all-Pine Tree Conference selection last year who played in last month’s Lobster Bowl.  “The guys in my position group have kind of taking me under their wing and made sure I’m picking up all the assignments.”

“The biggest adjustment so far has been the speed of the game,” he added. “People are flying off the ball 10 times faster than you see in high school. Guys are also a lot stronger up here.”

In the Pitt

Maine announced Wednesday that it will continue its recent tradition of playing a Division I school each season next year when it travels to Heinz Field to meet the University of Pittsburgh. In the last years, the Black Bears have hit the road to face Mississippi State, Nebraska, Boston College, Connecticut and Iowa and are headed to Syracuse this Sep. 26… History has shown that playoff experience is quite valuable to the Black Bears. In three of the last four instances where it has made the postseason, Maine has posted a winning record (1998, 2002 and 2003). After making the 2001 playoffs, the Bears qualified for the postseason again in 2002, then went 7-5 in 2003. The only time Maine did not post a winning record after a playoff run was in 1990 (3-8)… Maine has six quarterbacks on the roster this year, the most in Cosgrove’s 17-year tenure as head coach. “I don’t even have to throw in drills anymore,” joked Cosgrove, a two-time all-Yankee Conference QB at Maine in the late 1970s. The Bears have added four new signal-callers this year, including sophomore transfer Warren Smith from Iona and reigning Fitzpatrick Trophy winner Nate Doehler from Bonny Eagle. Smith will sit out the 2009 season due to NCAA transfer rules. Sophomore Chris Treister of Portland is currently listed as Mike Brusko’s backup.

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