ORONO — As the mental and physical scars left over from Jared Turcotte’s lost 2009 football season fade, a sign of how much his life has changed in 2010 is just a rolled-up shirt sleeve away.

The tattoo above his right bicep is hard to miss. It reads “Family First,” and it is a permanent statement from a permanently changed man.

Turcotte is no longer just a University of Maine fullback and student coming off two sports hernia operations that kept him from fulfilling the promise of his sophomore season.  He is a husband and an expectant father, with more significant promises to carry out.

He married Allysha Jones, a Maine cheerleader from Gorham, on July 17. On Sept. 19, 17 days into Turcotte’s junior season and one day after the Black Bears play in Syracuse, the couple is expecting a daughter, Aiva.

“I feel like I’m ready. I’m as ready as anybody could be for their first kid,” a smiling Turcotte said. “I’m real excited for her to finally get here. Being able to meet her for the first time is probably going to be the best day of my life.”

Sleepless nights may soon follow. And perhaps when they come, Turcotte will think back a year, when the uncertainty of his football future was keeping him awake. Or when the pain that he felt in his groin whenever he tried to sprint would not go away. Or when the Black Bears, who led nine of their 11 games at halftime, would fade in the second half to one of their six losses.

“It hurts, because everybody can always say, ‘What if this or what if that?'” Turcotte said. “But the fact of the matter is, I was hurt. A lot of people got hurt. What happened last year happened. We’ve just got to learn from it.”

What Maine’s opponents seemed to learn quickly last year was that Maine wasn’t just a one-dimensional offense without its All-American fullback and leading rusher in 2008. It was a noticeably less confident team.

Maine head coach Jack Cosgrove noticed it, too.

“People talk about us losing him in the run game. We lost him in the pass game, too. We lost him as a pass protector. We lost him on special teams. We lost a football player last year, not just a running back,” Cosgrove said.

“He has what I like to call ‘syrup’ in him,'” Cosgrove said. “It’s thicker than blood. There’s toughness. There’s motivation. There’s violence that he steps onto the football field with.”

In order for the 6-foot-2, 230-pound Turcotte to be the same violent runner, he had to get healthy and feel healthy. There can be no second thoughts about lowering a shoulder, driving his legs through a tackle, kicking out of an arm tackle, and cutting on a dime to get up field.

When he could run sprints at full speed that he couldn’t do even at half-speed in training camp last year, Turcotte knew he was physically healed. When he could walk onto a football field and not think about the injury even as scar tissue was causing him some pain, he knew he’d gotten past the mental obstacles as well.

“Once I got going in spring ball and I was running routes and stuff full-speed without contact, that was the point where I realized whatever is going to happen is going to happen, if it’s going to keep hurting it’s going to keep hurting. I was ready to go after that,” he said. “Going into the summer after spring ball ended, I just wanted to get back in shape. I started being out of shape and it was hard getting back into shape.”

The expectation is that Turcotte’s presence alone can get Maine’s running game back into shape. After being third in rushing in the Colonial Athletic Association with him in 2008, the Black Bears dropped to 11th without him last year. At first, Turcotte deflects the notion of a one-man cure.

“I don’t think any one person can really make that much of a difference,” he said.

Then the trademark Turcotte confidence comes through.

“Maybe. I don’t know,” he said.

Whether he proves to be the difference or not, he will be a different man when he runs this year.

“I feel like it’s extra motivation for me to do well, because if I don’t, I’m not doing right by my wife and my kid,” he said. “It’s not just a personal thing. I’ve got to do well for them, too.”

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