University of Maine offensive lineman Gunnar Docos expects his versatility to pay off with more playing time if the Black Bears play next spring. Peter Buehner photo

Offensive linemen have been using a blocking sled for decades to get ready for their grueling work in the trenches.

But when University of Maine head coach Nick Charlton challenged his players to come up with creative ideas for socially-distant workouts near the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March, Gunnar Docos thought a different kind of sled would get the job done and earn him some extra points for ingenuity.

University of Maine senior offensive lineman Gunnar Docos hopes to find a starting spot on a deep Black Bears offensive line next spring. University of Maine Athletics photo

The Oxford Hills graduate and Harrison resident started deadlifting the front end of a Polaris snowmobile. 

“Whatever’s around, you know?” he said. “I’ve been doing that kind of thing since high school. I had an old high school buddy give me a skidder tire and I’d push that every morning on the way out to school, and after school, too.”

“You want to talk about a guy who represents what the state of Maine is about and it’s Gunnar,” Charlton said. “He’s done a really good job, considering the circumstances, of staying in shape and being physically ready.”

“We like to make it fun with the offseason stuff, and he might have taken the cake right there (with the snowmobile deadlift),” Charlton added. “It’s hard to beat that.”

Docos and his fellow Black Bears have had a to beat back workout routines becoming stale, with the pandemic limiting summer workouts on campus and the fall athletic schedule being postponed.

Docos, a 6-foot-5, 309-pound senior who will maintain his eligibility and plans to play next fall, is clinging to the chance he could be seeing more of the blocking sled than the snow sled next March. The Colonial Athletic Association has plans to play a six-game spring season starting on March 6.

“It’s hard to keep pushing forward when you don’t know what you’re doing next, but hopefully the spring season comes around and we have something to work towards,” Docos said.

BLESSING IN DISGUISE

Taking this fall off from football turned out to be a blessing in disguise, according to Docos.

After starting all 13 games he played in at left tackle as a sophomore, Docos tore his MCL in training camp near the start of his junior year. The setback, plus having to deal with the pain from a genetic arthritic condition and an influx of talent to Maine’s offensive line, kept him out of the starting lineup and limited him to appearing in only two games.

Adjustments to his medication for the arthritis and less wear and tear overall have Docos “probably feeling better than I have in a couple of years,” he said.

“It was good for my body and helped me heal up,” he said. “And I was able to work on some technique stuff with guys over the summer.”

As an all-conference lineman at Oxford Hills, Docos said he learned a lot about getting physically stronger for the trenches. But nothing could prepare him for the level of execution needed while in the trenches.

“My biggest obstacle when I got here was the technique aspect. Like pass sets. I’d never done a pass (blocking) set until I got here,” he said. “That took me a long time, and I think just now I’m starting to get good at it.”

“I’m never satisfied where I’m at. I’m always working to get better,” he said.

Docos credits 2016 offensive line starters such as Jamil Demby, who is currently with the Los Angeles Rams, and Dan Burroughs with helping him get up to speed on the college game and learning the proper technique during his redshirt year.

Docos’ lifelong dream was to play at the University of Maine, and his work ethic and eagerness to learn impressed his teammates and coaches.

“He’s a very intelligent young man, so he certainly knows the offense,” Charlton said. “I think a lot of it is just dealing with the speed of the college game. I think that adjustment was big early on, but he continues to improve and shows signs that even as a fifth-year (senior) that he’s able to build and take steps in the right direction, which is extremely promising.”

After playing in one game his redshirt freshman year, Docos showed enough improvement to crack the starting lineup at left tackle in 2018. With him as one of the cornerstones, the Black Bears enjoyed a historic season, finishing 10-4 and reaching the Football Championship Series semifinals.

“We’ve grown really close and I think that’s the reason for the success of the team the last couple of years,” Docos said. “We have a really tight bond, a brotherhood. We’ve got each other’s backs.”

The chemistry maintained through the transition of head coaches from Joe Harasymiak to Charlton after the 2018 season, and has stayed strong through three different offensive line coaches over the course of Docos’ career.

“I wanted to come here and win a championship,” Docos said.

He also wants to beat Maine’s rival, the University of New Hamphsire, even a little more than the rest of the Black Bears.

He lived there until his family moved to Maine when he was about 8 years old and still holds a bit of a grudge against the Granite State.

“They said I was too big for my age group and too young for my size group, so they didn’t let me play football in New Hampshire when we lived there,” Docos said. “When we came here, they let me play and I had a ball. I started watching the Black Bears on TV whenever they had a game on and, I don’t know why, I just wanted to go there.”

‘IT TAUGHT ME PATIENCE’

From pursuing a degree in electrical engineering to starting on a final four football team, Docos has no regrets about shaping his future at Maine, even after losing his starting job last year.

“It’s always hard when you’re a part of a team of a sport that you’ve loved your whole life and you’ve got to sit and watch other people do it,” said Docos, who has won several academic awards at Maine. “I learned to not let my emotions control my play. It’s taught me patience. Plus I spent my first two years on the sidelines as well, but I’m a team player. I love these guys and I’ll have their back whether I’m on the field or not.”

Docos’ tunnel vision and team-first attitude during his benching did not go unnoticed by Charlton.

“He’s dealt with the adversity, going from being a starter in 2018 and then kind of playing in more spot situations in 2019,” Charlton said. “He’s been great. He’s a team guy. He loves the University of Maine. He’s certainly excited about moving forward and his opportunities. He’s made a lot of progress.”

Docos’ progress included learning to become more versatile by playing on the other end and the interior of the line.

“I’ve played a little right tackle this fall and I’m practicing a little bit of guard, too, and pre-practice I’ve been taking some snaps just in case,” he said. “I feel like I know the playbook pretty well. I might be a little rusty on keys, but I know I can do a little studying and I can play any spot on the line if they needed me to.”

Charlton said moving Docos around is what’s best for the line but Docos, as well, “because he’s shown so much growth it’s worth seeing where he fits, what he can do and how many different positions he can play.”

“He’s going to be a big part of our plans,” Charlton said. “We’re going to see exactly where it shakes out. There’s going to be competition in the spring and he’s going to be fighting for a starting job. He’s been a starter, he’s been a sixth man, he’s done multiple roles. He’s going to be fighting for a starting job and he knows the expectation is for him to go get one.”

Currently focused on doing whatever he can to win back a spot in the starting lineup, Docos is grateful he still has an opportunity to play at Maine. If that ends up leading him to professional football, he intends to make the most of that opportunity, too.

“We’ll see how it goes, see what I can put on film for the next year,” he said. “Of course, I would love to do that, and if the opportunity comes, I’ll jump at it and put all of my effort into it.”


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