ORONO – If there is a look of determination in Chris Treister’s eyes this summer, an undercurrent of serious focus and steely confidence, understand the motivation.

Treister, a junior, is staring down his dream.

The former Portland High quarterback who could scramble his way to a win in high school, is in a two-man competition for the starting job at the University of Maine.

It’s a gig that seemed, even a year ago, would always bear another man’s name. Enter Treister’s determination.

“The thrill of going out there with all of these guys and getting a chance to shine motivates me,” said Treister. “Without that feeling it can be kind of empty. To be alongside 80-plus guys with one goal in mind? It’s right there. To have that opportunity is unbelievable.”

Treister is competing with another junior, Warren Smith, a gunslinger from south Jersey who had Maine beating Syracuse at halftime last year.

He came in to rescue the offense with his arm after Maine’s run game stalled out just a pair of games into the season. Smith was legit.

The move bypassed Treister in the line of succession.

“That was devastating for Chris,” said Maine Coach Jack Cosgrove. “We felt Warren had a throwing ability and game experience we just couldn’t ignore.”

Treister, who had originally chosen Maine because he wanted to represent his state, eventually considered a transfer.

“That’s not a knock on us. That’s a compliment to his competitiveness,” said Cosgrove. “He respected the process though and showed his character.”

With two games left in the season Smith injured his foot.

Enter Treister.

After two years of signalling plays from the sideline, he had his first collegiate start against Rhode Island. It was a home run: He completed 40 of 46 passes for 468 yards to set program passing and completion records in a 41-17 win.

Against New Hampshire in the season finale, he completed 29 of 48 passes for 303 yards but was intercepted twice. More importantly Maine was leading by a touchdown to end the third quarter before eventually losing.

“It made me feel more a part of this team,” said Treister. “When you step on that field it gives you a sense of confidence.”

The pair’s ability as quarterbacks is similar.

Both have strong arms. Both can run the ball. They have slightly different styles.

Treister also has a slight edge when it comes to knowing the offense. But Smith is not far behind.

“Chris is a competitor. I’m a competitor,” said Smith. “We’re competing and we’re bringing the team with us.”

Their personalities couldn’t be more opposite.

If Smith is city, Treister is Maine.

If Smith is likable for his lack of pretension, and street-smarts kind of honesty and earnestness, Treister is likable for his quiet intensity and disciplined charge toward his dream.

“Chris models the progression you want a young man to take,” said Cosgrove. “He was the best player on the field in most games in high school. He could run around, take risks. He came here and realized he can’t scramble. He responded. He is so meticulous.

“This is really important to him. He wants to represent the state. It’s special.”

Smith, meanwhile has recovered from offseason foot surgery. Two bones were fused together, and his gait has changed mildly.

But he is the guy who would duct tape a dangling appendage and keep playing if the trainers didn’t notice.

“I want to run. I know they won’t let me take the red jersey off,” said Smith. “But I’m ready to go, let the leash off. My arm feels powerful.”

Maine’s coaches will not tip their hand as to which player will helm the offense.

Why? There’s nothing to tip. They just don’t know who will be the one. It is, they say, the best kind of dilemma.

“It’s so close from a football standpoint we have to look at the intangibles,” said offensive coordinator Kevin Bourgoin. “You start looking at leadership. How do they get the team to perform? How do they react to pressure? How do they handle highs or lows? In saying that, there will be a heavy scaling to their performance on the football field.”

Over the next two-plus weeks the pair will go at it.

There is no timetable to name a starter, but there is an expectation that the decision will eventually be clear. Maine opens the season on Thursday, Sept. 2, against Albany.

“You want one guy to pull away. That would make it easy and clear,” said Bourgoin. “I’ll have a tough time telling one of them you’re not the guy. Because we’re not going to be playing both.”

Back in Cape Elizabeth, where his family is asked about their son everywhere they go, there is a large contingent pulling for No. 12.

There is that extra sense of pride when a native son rises to represent the state’s only Division I program.

“It would matter a huge amount. I’d be very proud for myself and our football program,” said Portland Coach Mike Bailey. “I get asked all the time. ‘Is he gonna get his shot?’ ‘Will he play?’ He certainly showed he could play. But that’s a tough decision between the two of them. But a great dilemma for a coach to have.”

His family knows what a fighter they have on their hands.

Just look to his beginnings.

“Christopher has always defied the odds. He wasn’t supposed to be born,” said his father Ron Treister.

When Caryn Treister was five months pregnant with Chris, she learned she had a massive brain tumor. It was benign. But her brain was operated on the night of the diagnosis.

“They said he would go into shock and wouldn’t be able to survive,” said Caryn. “But you know what? I believed the whole time. Just feeling him kick, that was the happiest moment. He really was a miracle baby.”

From there, the Treister family raised two hardworking kids, Kelsey, 23, and Chris.

They’ve seen their Chris’ drive shift into a higher gear this offseason.

“We’ve seen a difference in him. He’s got that focus. He knows what he has to do,” said Ron Treister. “Just as a father speaking, I see him feeling much more a fabric of the team. … He really believes they can go all the way. He believes they are a team of destiny.”

The Treisters will support Maine football no matter which way the decision goes. So will their son. So will Smith. All have said so.

And no matter, said his mother, the Treister’s pride in their son will never waver.

“The fact he has lasted, in my opinion as long as he has, and what he’s been through up there without playing. I think he’ll always have that,” she said. “He’ll be able to take that character he’s built with him for the rest of his life. I’m just thrilled he stuck with it and persevered. It shows the belief he has in himself.

“It doesn’t even matter what we say. He believes in himself. He believes he can do it and do it really well.”

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

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