When Jake Eaton ran onto the football field to take his first snaps as the University of Maine’s starting quarterback, he understood the situation. He was replacing the injured veteran in body, but not necessarily in spirit.

“I was a freshman. This was Brian Scott’s team. It wasn’t my team,” said Eaton. “It had to become my team. By the time I was a senior, it was obvious it was my team.”

Eaton emphasized the “my” when he spoke late Friday afternoon. Football may be the quintessential team sport but among the players, there has to be a No. 1. It’s not quite the same as being named captain.

“Being quarterback is a 24/7 job,” said Eaton. “He leads in the classroom, on the practice field, in the locker room and when he steps into the huddle. If you’re going to two quarterbacks, the team responds differently. That’s the way it is.”

With all due respect to those who have tried, no one has filled Eaton’s shoes since his last college game in the fall of 2002. Next weekend, Warren Smith gets another chance when Maine opens its 2011 season with Bryant University.

Head Coach Jack Cosgrove named Smith as his starting quarterback at the end of last week, putting Chris Treister, who’s had his opportunities, back on the sideline. Both are seniors. Neither man can claim this is “my” team.

Before Smith-Treister there was Adam Farkas-Mike Brusko and the same dilemma where their gifts couldn’t hide their flaws. Ron Whitcomb was the four-year starter who succeeded Eaton.

No one should have questioned Whitcomb’s execution after he led Maine to its upset win over Mississippi State. No one should have questioned Whitcomb’s courage after Nebraska sacked him nearly a dozen times, sometimes rushing everyone but the waterboys. Whitcomb didn’t shrink from his mission in keeping Maine in the game ultimately won by Nebraska.

Whitcomb’s flaw was a personality that made it seem like he was on the outside looking in with his teammates. Eaton certainly didn’t have that issue. Smith and Treister don’t have that issue.

They’re different personalities, different styles. Gunslinger and surgeon in simple terms. They happen to be good friends.

Smith let his teammates know he had to work harder for their acceptance after transferring to Maine from Iona for his sophomore season. Candor is always welcomed.

Treister has been the loyal team player, beginning his fifth year on campus. He’s earned his climb up the depth chart and that counts for something. That Treister grew up in Maine and played at Portland means more to Maine partisans who measure him against Smith, the kid from New Jersey.

Treister has the game performances that scream potential. His five touchdowns in a 40-for-46 victory over Rhode Island in a debut appearance that rightfully opened eyes. So did an encore of 29 of 48 for 303 yards and two touchdowns in a loss to rival New Hampshire.

Smith hasn’t had those game days. When he’s on, he’s very good, as opposed to spectacular. Some believe he should be the QB-in-waiting instead of Treister and that may include people inside the program.

What drives the angst, of course, is the memory of last year’s 4-7 record when neither quarterback could say this was “my” team.

Eaton doesn’t pay close attention to Maine football these days, but he knows enough to understand what’s happening. He’s 30 and the part-time athletic director in a small school system in his home state of Vermont.

At Orono, he played under the eyes of Bobby Wilder, the offensive coordinator who moved on to restart the football program at Old Dominion University. Brian Scott is on Wilder’s staff. So is Whitcomb. Before he left Maine, Wilder recruited Treister. Interesting linkage.

Eaton spent three seasons with the Orlando Predators, playing for Coach Jay Gruden in the Arena Football League. Eaton went from college hero to backing up Joe Hamilton, the former Georgia Tech star, and, later, Shane Stafford, the former UConn quarterback.

“I practiced like it was game day every day,” said Eaton. “I played well when I had my chance. You’ve got to be mature about it.”

He’s still a confident individual but now he was understating. In 2008, Gruden switched quarterbacks during the game with the San Jose SaberCats. Eaton came in to throw for one touchdown and rush for two more in a 61-35 victory. He was named the Offensive Player of the Game.

The league suspended the 2009 season and Eaton called it a career. This fall, he responded to the call for a reunion of Maine football players in Boston in support of Cosgrove and the program.

Smith or Treister? Eaton wouldn’t presume to enter that discussion. One or the other must put it to rest and make this “my” team.

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

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Twitter: SteveSolloway