ORONO – The receiver in the white University of Maine jersey caught the football and headed upfield. Something about his number 21 made you wonder.

“Pass complete to Jared Turcotte,” boomed the voice over the loudspeakers. Heads turned, eyes searched the playing field. Seeing is believing and sure enough, another pass was thrown to No. 21 coming out of the backfield. The voice confirmed the completed pass to Turcotte again.

Now the 100 or so spectators at the Jeff Cole spring scrimmage Saturday were really stirring. Turcotte wears No. 21 although no one’s seen him in uniform for about a year.

Two abdominal surgeries kicked one of Maine’s dynamic players to the sideline.

On the field, freshman running back Terrel Walker might have muttered to himself. Yes, he was wearing No. 21, but couldn’t everyone see he was about 6 inches shorter than Turcotte? Couldn’t they see it was Terrel Walker catching the football?

Walker smiled after the scrimmage. There was no need to correct the error and get the credit. He understood. Everybody wants to see Turcotte in the backfield, running over would-be tacklers with the football under his arm. Especially his teammates.

“I know what it’s like,” said Walker, who was a team captain and MVP. “I tore my ACL in high school (in Taunton, Mass.,) and missed my whole senior year. It’s not fun.”

Not fun because you’re missing the games and your personal clock is ticking. Not fun because football is a team sport and you’re not contributing. Not fun because fans keep approaching: When are you coming back?

Spring scrimmages are little more than previews, if that. For fans it’s more an opportunity to talk football before everyone breaks for the summer. Starting jobs aren’t won or lost in May.

The broken bones in quarterback Warren Smith’s foot had healed sufficiently to allow him to take snaps and throw. Chris Treister threw well, too.

Saturday’s performance by the offense was the best by far of the spring, said Coach Jack Cosgrove. The offensive line meshed without Tyler Eastman, the big alum now with the Kansas City Chiefs. The kicking game looked good.

Then you noticed the 6-foot-2 player wearing the other No. 21 jersey and shorts and no pads. Turcotte can’t play and no matter how hard Cosgrove, his staff and the players work to compensate, the whole still has a hole.

“I get asked a lot when I’m coming back and I’m fine with that,” said Turcotte. “People are interested and that’s good. I’ll be ready in the fall.”

He’ll be a senior in academic years. He was a redshirt his freshman season and lost all last year for medical reasons. He’s no longer the kid from Lewiston High who won the Fitzpatrick Trophy in 2006. He discovered teammates get quiet when he talks. They listen to what he says.

“I didn’t know what to make of that at first. It’s like, who are you to say that?”

Rather than challenge him as a big-headed underclassman, Turcotte’s teammates turned to him for leadership. Which made last year even more difficult. Maine had high expectations going into 2009 but stumbled instead.

Turcotte couldn’t help on the field and because he wasn’t playing, wasn’t sure he should be speaking up in the locker room.

Saturday, he yearned to feel light on his feet and the power in his legs, all at once. He also realizes he’s ready to lead.

He felt the energy up and down the line and in the backfield when he last played. “We were a very physical team. I don’t know where that went last year.”

Maybe more than Smith or Treister, he has the persona to bring that back.

“His breakout game was probably the game against Massachusetts (83 yards, a touchdown), the first year he played,” said Cosgrove. “He was carrying the ball and he was giving the hits. You could even feel them on the sideline.”

Turcotte will be back. He has no doubt. If he still isn’t clear what he means to Maine football, others are telling him.

“I was put on this planet to play football to the best of my ability,” he says. “I really believe that.”

 

Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at:

[email protected]