ORONO — University of Maine head football coach Nick Charlton always talks about making sure his players are the right fit for the university, not just in football terms, but socially, academically and culturally.

And that’s especially true with transfers. Under new NCAA rules, transfers are immediately eligible to play at  their new schools, instead of sitting out a year. The NCAA’s transfer portal is filled – still – with college football players looking for new schools.

The Black Bears opened their 2021 training camp on Wednesday with a roster that includes over 20 transfers, many of whom will challenge for starting positions. And when considering them, Charlton said there is a lot for them to look at.

“Are they going to fit here?” he said the other day. “Is this the right place? Can they play here? Of course. But it’s very culturally based. We have to be very specific in the guys we target.”

Those who have come to play for Maine are finding it’s the perfect spot for them.

Austin Chambers, a 25-year-old, 6-foot-5, 305-pound defensive tackle, arrived here last year from Brigham Young University, a Football Bowl Subdivision school that regularly sends players to the NFL. He played during the spring season, recording 11 tackles.

Chambers came sight-unseen, on faith. He hasn’t been disappointed.

“It may seem crazy,” said Chambers, who is working on his Master’s degree in business administration, “but Maine is a cool state to everyone else in the country. It’s a destination point. There’s no other place like it.”

Chambers realized at BYU, he was just another defensive tackle rotating into the game. He has dreams of playing in the NFL and the only way he can get that is by putting up statistics, by having his talent showcased on film.

“I realized I had to find a place that values me and can help me take that next step,” said Chambers.

Ray Miller, a 6-foot-1, 230-pound linebacker, transferred to Maine from Campbell University. He was a starting linebacker there, but lost his job when a new position coach came in. “I had no choice but to transfer,” said the 23-year-old Miller, who is also working on his Master’s in business administration. “I had a handful of choices, but Maine was my best opportunity.”

He visited Orono – and was taken to lunch by Chambers (“That sealed the deal,” said Chambers) – and fell in love with the place. “I’m big into geography,” said Miller. “And I’ve always wanted to visit Maine. What better opportunity?”

Then there’s defensive back Fofie Bazzie, who transferred to Maine from FBS Maryland before the coronavirus pandemic canceled the 2020 season. He also played this spring for Maine, appearing in two games.

“I did my research on the school and the program,” he said. “There were a lot of guys from my area who came here to play. And that right there gave me the confidence and the verification I needed to come and play ball here.”

The three of them have already established themselves as leaders on the field and in the locker room. Charlton and defensive coordinator Mike Ryan spoke highly of the character and leadership skills of them all.

They know what Maine stands for. Miller spoke of the team’s grit, which reminded him of his small high school in Spartanburg, South Carolina. “We weren’t a big school but we always had a great football program because we had grit,” he said. “It’s the same here.”

Bazzie said Maine provides an atmosphere that allows everyone to contribute and succeed.

“That’s why I’m driven to just come here every day and do what I need to do to 1), become a better person and 2), help everyone around me become better,” he said. “We break it down every day with ‘Family’ because we have a family atmosphere here. I love being in Orono. I love going to school here. I love playing football here. I love everything about it. I even fell in love with the cold.”

NOTES: The Black Bears are fairly healthy coming into camp. Only offensive lineman Tyler Royal and defensive back Shaquille St-Lot are unable to practice. Royal, a senior, suffered a knee injury during the spring season and will not play this fall. He has been granted a medical redshirt year and is expected to return next year. St-Lot, who suffered a knee injury last November, was running along the sidelines, with a brace on his right knee. …

The new turf field at Alfond Stadium got high praise from the players. The 13-year-old artificial surface was replaced in early July. “It’s a blessing,” said defensive back Katley Joseph. “We’ve been talking about this for a while.” …

Charlton said he received notification during the middle of practice of the decision by the University of Maine System to require the COVID-19 vaccine for all students who are on campus.

“By next week we should be at 90 percent vaccinated,” the head coach said, noting there are 125 individuals involved with the program.

Asked if it were possible some players or staff members might leave because of the requirement, he said, “That’s a conversation we’ll be having with the guys. We won’t be the only program going through it.”

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