ORONO – There was a time when Trevor Coston considered leaving the University of Maine football team and moving toward a different chapter of his life.

Instead, in the wake of surgeries to repair a torn ACL and a shoulder injury, Coston discovered the value of faith. The faith he had in himself to stick with the program. The faith his mother, Maya, had in him to make the right decisions. The faith his teammates and coaches had in him to recover and return. The faith he needed to continue with football.

“You suffer through one injury, then you suffer through another injury,” said Coston, a safety and punt returner, “but you have to have belief and faith. There were times I wanted to leave and times I didn’t know if I wanted to continue to play.”

Coston decided otherwise. He continued to play football and his perseverance was rewarded last weekend in Maine’s 28-13 win over Bryant. Coston opened the season by totaling 130 yards on five punt returns, including a 74-yard touchdown on Maine’s special teams, and had two interceptions on defense.

In light of his performance, Coston carted home a handful of weekly conference and national honors, but now his focus — and the Black Bears’ focus — is on Pittsburgh, its Football Bowl Subdivision opponent at 1 p.m. today at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh.

“I’ve been here when we’ve played Iowa and Syracuse twice,” said Coston, a fifth-year senior. “It’s nothing too different but as a team, we’re focusing on us. We’re not worried that it’s an FBS team or that it’s Pitt. We’re focusing on us. If we do what we have to do, I think it will be a good game.”

After redshirting his freshman year in 2007, Coston played in Maine’s first two games in 2008 before suffering a season-ending ACL tear against Monmouth. In the course of a six-month recovery, he learned the importance of staying in shape; Coston admits that because of inactivity and not eating properly during his recovery time, he gained weight he later lost. He returned to the field in 2009 and had 52 tackles in 11 games, then had 74 tackles in 11 games last season.

“What’s good for him this year is that he’s healthy,” said Joe Rossi, Maine’s defensive coordinator and linebackers coach. “He’s always been a physical, aggressive kid. When you get to be an older player, you have a great grasp on your responsibilities and what to expect, so the game kind of slows down for you. You really play faster. Because of Trevor’s experience, he can play faster and he knows what to expect. He knows the defense and knows all the checks, and when you get to that point, you just play.”

As he got older and grew with the program, Coston embraced his ability to take risks, a quality that Maine’s coaching staff believes is essential in a special-teams returner.

“He’s a very courageous kid,” Maine Coach Jack Cosgrove said. “There’s no hesitancy. He wants to return the ball. When you have a runner like that out there, it’s exciting for your return team. They know that if they do their job, this kid’s courage and his ability will lead to a touchdown.

“These things that we see Trevor doing in a game, he practices very hard and he takes it very seriously. And as a result, that allows him to be more courageous.”

At Maine, playing time is earned through proficiency on special teams, in practice and games, and it creates a certain niche for some players. Coston is unique — he’s effective on both special teams and at free safety.

Likewise, an efficient return unit opens holes and establishes a direction for its returner, evidenced by Coston’s numbers against Bryant. His performance wasn’t just a display of his own courage; it was a display of the faith his teammates had in him.

“I couldn’t have had that success without them,” Coston said. “I wouldn’t have had a chance to do anything. A lot of those guys came up to me and told me, ‘we’ve got to get you to the end zone. Just follow me.’ I told them, ‘All right. If I see you, I’ll follow you.’ “

MAINE: In its annual meeting with a Football Bowl Subdivision school, the Black Bears need to maintain consistency through the course of a game to remain competitive. While Maine got a significant boost from its special-teams play and the ground-game efforts of quarterback Warren Smith and running back Pushaun Brown in last week’s 28-13 win over Bryant, the team has to find balance in both facets of the game. In their seven meetings in the last seven years, the Black Bears are 1-6 against FBS opponents, the only victory coming in 2004 at Mississippi State.

PITTSBURGH: The Panthers opened the season with a 35-16 win last weekend over Buffalo, but couldn’t jump-start their offense until the third quarter, sparked by an interception that set up the first of four touchdowns. Boosted by Ray Graham, who ran for 201 yards and three touchdowns on 29 carries, Pitt’s high-octane offense finished with 410 yards (221 rushing, 179 receiving) against Buffalo, but is also characterized by player speed and the ability to make plays quickly and efficiently. In Coach Todd Graham’s short tenure, he’s preached speed, power and explosion for his team.

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

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Twitter: rlenzi