PORTLAND – As a new football preseason dawns today at the University of Maine, there will be one striking difference from a year ago: a full complement of healthy players.

Maine went 5-6 last year in a season marred by the loss of key players to injury.

This year Maine returns fullback Jared Turcotte, linebacker Mark Masterson and quarterback Warren Smith, among others. Turcotte and Masterson missed all of 2009. Eighteen players underwent offseason surgery.

“We got really sidetracked last year,” said Maine Coach Jack Cosgrove, speaking at the National Football Foundation’s annual luncheon Thursday in Portland. “Our top offensive and defensive players didn’t play a single down. We were losing guys left and right. It’s not the reason. It’s a factor.

“We’re getting them back and that can only be a positive.”

Players report to preseason camp today, and after undergoing physicals will hit the field Saturday afternoon for their first official practice.

“We’re beyond ready to go,” said Smith, who had two bones fused together in his foot late in the season. “You can tell in the workouts. We feel like this is our year. When you’re on the sideline watching your teammates compete, it motivates you. We are ready to get better, and get on the field and fly around.”

Maine went 4-4 in the Colonial Athletic Association last year, switching to a passing game after leading the league in rushing in 2008. This year’s plan is to blend both.

“We have to develop who we are,” said Cosgrove. “Last year we didn’t play defense well (early) and couldn’t run the ball to save our lives. We started chucking it all over the ballyard and putting up points but not winning games. We’ve got to get a blend going.”

Maine, ranked seventh in the realigned CAA in a preseason coaches’ poll, will open the season at home Sept. 2 against Albany — a Thursday night game.

The Black Bears have a tough conference schedule that includes Villanova, the defending FCS national champion, on Oct. 16, and two more teams that were ranked in the nation’s top 20 last year — No. 4 William & Mary on Sept. 25, and No. 20 Delaware on the road Oct. 9.

Maine also will return to the Carrier Dome on Sept. 18 to face Syracuse of the Big East.

Turcotte was among the biggest stories of 2009 despite not playing a down.

After leading Maine in rushing in 2008 with 625 yards, he eventually underwent two abdominal surgeries and never played in a game.

His return has been highly anticipated.

Masterson, who had a foot injury early in the 2009 season, also underwent labrum surgery. He earned his bachelor of science degree in May, was granted a medical redshirt season, and will take graduate courses this fall.

“I’m so excited. I’m ready to get back out there and start hitting people,” said Masterson. “Being injured is a difficult experience. You’re really down in the dumps the first few weeks and the hard part is you start to feel like you’re not part of a team anymore.

“But there’s such a great sense of anticipation for this upcoming camp. More than any other year that I have been here, this camp can’t come soon enough.”

Smith will compete in preseason for the quarterback position against Chris Treister, a former Portland High player who closed last season with two strong performances.

“I think that’s the best for both of us,” said Smith. “It will make us play to our highest potential. Coach says we’re playing just one. So one of us has to step up.”

Smith is confident his foot won’t stand in the way.

“The doctors said, ‘Just beat the crap out of your foot.’ It’s ready to go. It’s going to hurt. I have screws in there but the foot isn’t going anywhere,” said Smith.

“I’ve just got to fight for the flexibility. They said run on it. Keep running on it, it’s good for it.”

Staff Writer Jenn Menendez can be contacted at 791-6426 or at:

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