ORONO – The senior class of the University of Maine football program has experienced the highs of the game. They’ve reveled in the wins and they relished making the FBS playoffs in 2008, earning an at-large bid to face Northern Iowa.

They’ve also had to struggle through low points, including a 24-21 defeat last fall against William & Mary and a sloppy 3-0 loss to Albany in the season opener.

So, what will it be this year?

The Black Bears open the season at 5 p.m. Saturday against Bryant at Alfond Stadium. Maine Coach Jack Cosgrove regards this year’s class of 18 redshirt and true seniors as a collection of diverse personalities — some gregarious, some businesslike, some who lead by example and some who take the reins vocally — and as a group that has collectively invested itself in the program.

“We’ve invested a lot of time in them as a coaching staff,” Cosgrove said. “They’ve invested a lot of time in taking the coaching, they’ve invested a lot of time in the system and in the structure of the system, and I think they are truly all in.”

Cosgrove sees them as a group that is courageous, consistent and has the ability to communicate. Its collective personality, Cosgrove believes, distinguishes this senior class from other senior classes at Maine.

“They’ve demonstrated a greater love for the game,” Cosgrove said. “They have a passion for the game, they practice hard and that’s important for them. And their togetherness is obvious.”

Steven Shea, an offensive lineman from Corinna, says there’s a common mentality among each senior class at Maine.

“It’s the same for every senior that comes to the program,” Shea said. “This has got to be your year. You’ve got to get better every day and you’ve got to make the most of it.”

ROOSEVELT BOONE

Roosevelt Boone cuts to the chase when he discusses what his final season at Maine means to him.

“It’s time for me to get paid,” the running back said.

As in, to reap the investments he’s made in being a part of the Black Bears’ program.

He came to Orono from Washington by way of the Christchurch School in Rappahannock, Va. He’s a 5-foot-8 running back who had to endure injuries and position changes in his first three years of college, but took it upon himself to learn more about the game.

“Mentally and physically it’s extremely hard,” Boone said. “I say that because a lot of people don’t make it. They may get down on themselves and feel bad, so they quit. But this program, if you can make it through this program, you can make it anywhere.”

Boone spent this summer in Orono, working, attending classes and training for the upcoming season. Boone is also a program director for Strong Mind-Strong Body, Inc., and he and his mother, Alice, organized and ran a wellness and nutrition camp for Bangor-area at-risk children. It was another investment in a season in which Boone has an expectation for his team’s frame of mind.

“We’ll be much better than 4-7, I can promise you that,” Boone said. “I can’t make any high expectations right now. That’s too early. But the attitude of the senior class is that we’re going to be a lot better than 4-7. In years past, the talent has been better than 4-7 but the attitude hasn’t. It’s going to be different this year.”

DEREK BUTTLES

At 6-foot-3, Derek Buttles is an intimidating presence, but he’s a soft-spoken tight end who reflects upon his time in Orono as one of growth and learning, as an individual and as part of a collective unit.

“I can look back and see the kind of kid I was, and I’ve grown into a man,” Buttles said.

Coming to Maine as a 17-year-old from Pike, N.Y., (60 miles southeast of Buffalo) enlightened Buttles. He met teammates from other parts of the East Coast, some who went to rural private schools and others who grew up attending public schools, and some who were African-American from inner cities and others who had never left their home state.

“I’m from the sticks,” Buttles said. “I’ve seen different kinds of cultures and a lot of diversity here, and I realized how much I hadn’t seen before I came here.”

He went from being the best football player at his high school to being a number having to earn his spot on the football field. But he saw how each player came together to form a unit and when he discusses goals for the 2011 season, he talks with conviction.

“I want to be the person who does things right when no one’s watching,” Buttles said. “Team-wise, we’re here to win, and that’s what we want to do. Get as much accomplished on the field as we can.”

RAIBONNE CHARLES

Raibonne Charles still works. The lineman from Windham had to work to earn a spot on the roster, and then continue to work to earn playing time.

“I knew what I had to do, and I had to have faith that I could get it done,” said Charles, who has played in 35 games in three years . “I just kept waiting until my name got called.”

His first year at Maine was mentally demanding, learning how to balance schoolwork, practices, studying a playbook and following a rigid football schedule that included travel, treatment and team meetings. As a redshirt freshman in 2008, Charles started all 13 games at defensive tackle and through the course of the past three years, found himself meshing with his classmates.

“Our class is really close, I’d say even more now than ever,” Charles said. “We’re fighting for the guy next to us. The way we stuck together, we all trust and care for each other.”

But in the process, he learned a vital lesson. Don’t stop until you get what you want. But keep working.

When he considers the body of work from this year’s class, Charles is honest.

“I won’t lie to you,” Charles said. “We feel pressure to do well. The people brought in, they’re depending on this senior class to do well. They’re expecting us to do well. But the pressure? It’s life.”

PUSHAWN BROWN

For Pushawn Brown, this is the year to make the most of the opportunities football has given him and his teammates.

“Your senior year, for everybody, it means the world to us,” the running back from New Brunswick, N.J., said. “After this, some people don’t know if they’ll have the opportunity to play the game again. You want to go out on a high note. You want to be at your best. That’s why we were up here all summer, putting in the work. You’re not winning the games. You’re winning because of the preparation for the games.”

He came to Maine because, as he explained it, “this was my only scholarship offer” and he didn’t want to burden his mother, Sherry, with paying for college for two children. He knew what people had told him about the transition to college football, to be prepared for a more intense level of the game and to fully invest time and energy.

“You hear it, but you don’t listen to it,” Brown said. “In high school, it’s practice two or three hours and you’re done with football for the day. In college, everything you do, it’s not just for school, it’s around football. That was a good experience for me, getting adjusted to that.”

In preparation for his final year at Maine, he emphasizes positivity.

“We definitely want to feel a lot more highs this year,” Brown said. “We remember how we felt walking off the field last year against James Madison (a 14-10 loss in the season finale) last year. So that’s something we’re going to go out there with, in our heads and our hearts. That’s something that we’re going to play for, come Sept. 3. We’re going to take every situation and make it more positive.”‘

Staff Writer Rachel Lenzi can be reached at 791-6415 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: twitter.com/rlenzi


The sidebar to this story was corrected at 1:20 p.m., Aug. 29, 2011, to state that Maine running back Pushawn Brown had 687 yards on 135 carries in 2010 for the Maine football team.