Raffaele Salamone, left, saw action in 10 of Maine’s 11 games last season, making 16 tackles, five unassisted. He also had one pass breakup and a fumble recovery. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

ORONO — As Raffaele Salamone has learned, leadership can sneak up on you. One minute you’re the young player trying to absorb everything you see the veterans doing, and the next you’re the institutional knowledge, dispensing that same information.

“It feels good, man. It happened fast. It feels like yesterday I was moving into the freshman dorm. All of a sudden, I’m here and I’m the old guy in the room,” Salamone said after Tuesday’s University of Maine football practice.

Raffaele Salamone

A graduate student and 2017 graduate of Portland’s Deering High School, Salamone is one of the wise old men on the Black Bears’ roster. Thanks to an extra season of eligibility granted by the NCAA because of the coronavirus pandemic, this season is Salamone’s sixth with Maine, including the abbreviated four-game schedule the Black Bears played in the spring of 2021 after the 2020 fall season was canceled.

Last season, Salamone earned the first significant playing time of his career. This season, the 6-foot-3, 266-pound Portland native is expected to be a key contributor on the inside of Maine’s defensive line. In 11-on-11 drills in Tuesday morning’s practice, Salamone worked with the first-team defense on the right and left sides of the interior defensive line.

“Wherever they need me, I’m comfortable and can fill in. Whether it’s tackle or nose guard, I’m comfortable playing both,” Salamone said.

Salamone earned his bachelor’s degree in marine science, and is now working toward his master’s in business administration. He plans to work with an uncle in seafood sales after he graduates in December.


But first, Salamone has a final season of football. Defensive line play will be key to the Black Bears this season. As a team, the Black Bears recorded just 12 sacks and 10 quarterback hurries last season, and that helped opponents complete 59 percent of their passes for 2,481 yards and 22 touchdowns. The Black Bears know that has to improve, and players like Salamone will be integral.

Salamone and the Black Bears open the season Sept. 3 at the University of New Mexico.

“He’s been outstanding since I got here (last December). He works hard in everything we do. He’s developed a lot since January physically,” said Jordan Stevens, Maine’s first-year head coach and a former Black Bears defensive end. “Fundamentally, he’s sound. He has really good hands. He can strike. He can play with separation on the D-line. I think getting him more productive off the blocks, helping that way, is kind of his next step in his progression.”

A finalist for the Gaziano Award as one of the top defensive linemen in the state as a Deering senior in 2016, Salamone had to work and climb his way into the Black Bears’ defensive rotation. After redshirting 2017, his first season at Maine, Salamone played in just two games in 2018. He played in one game in 2019, recording a tackle in the opener against Sacred Heart, and did not see game action in the short 2021 spring season.

The whole time, Salamone was practicing and learning from his elders on the defensive line. Salamone points at former Black Bears like Skylar Bowman, Charles Mitchell, Kayon Whitaker and Alejandro Oregon as teammates who helped him develop and become a college football player.

“When I came in, they greeted me, took me in, anything I needed they were there for me. They helped me learn and get caught up,” Salamone said.


It started to come together last season for Salamone, who saw action in 10 of Maine’s 11 games. Salamone made 16 tackles last season, five unassisted and had one pass breakup and a fumble recovery.

“It was a now or never situation. I think experience, and being more confident in my play really helped. It just elevated my game,” Salamone said.

Dorian Royal is in the same place Salamone was in a few years ago. The 6-foot-4, 260-pound sophomore defensive lineman from Quebec City sees Salamone as the mentor he needed when he arrived in Orono in 2020. An older teammate checking on how he’s doing, making sure he knows the plays, and making sure he gets in extra work after practice.

“I really appreciate it. It makes you feel like part of the team. It makes you feel like the guys really want you on the team, too. I think developing a connection with (Salamone) was a really good part of it,” Royal said.

Practicing alongside Salamone has made Royal focus on his technique, and that in turn has made him a better player.

“His pad level and working with his hands is something he’s really good at, and something I’ve picked up watching him,” Royal said. “He’s really hard working, and that’s something else I picked up. Be hard on yourself, always try to be the best.”

Stevens has noticed Salamone’s leadership in the weight room and on the practice field.

“In my time being here, I think he’s been more vocal, which is good. You see his confidence coming out,” Stevens said.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.