ORONO — Spend 30 minutes with Marcus Wasilewski and John Ebeling. Talk to them about football and their lives. You won’t need more time to learn they’re articulate, athletic, stand-up guys.

But are they college quarterbacks? Can either of them lead the University of Maine to another winning season and an invitation back to the NCAA playoffs in 2012?

Wasilewski and Ebeling will audition for their roles in the Jeff Cole spring scrimmage that will wrap up spring practice Saturday. They will be judged in August when the preseason begins.

Can either stop the cycle of one wonderous season followed by disappointments? No one knows. If it’s April on what Coach Jack Cosgrove fondly calls his Island of Misfit Toys, it means the starting quarterback job is open. Again. Just as it was last year and the year before and the year before that.

Good luck, gentlemen. You won’t have a hot-shot, five-star freshman quarterback arriving to challenge you. Orono cannot attract the obvious stars. Cosgrove gets the Misfit Toys who can’t find a home elsewhere and have something to prove.

There’s no second coming of Warren Smith, who landed at Maine after his original school, Iona, dropped football. He came into his own in 2011. There’s no Chris Treister, who spent a college career preparing for the starring role, and played well when Smith was injured or ineffective. Both were seniors.

Wasilewski was perfect as second understudy. One pass thrown, one pass completed. That’s it. He got more repetitions in practice but not a lot. Ebeling has yet to throw a pass in a game. He did catch two from Smith last season and both went for touchdowns in playoff games against Appalachian State and Georgia Southern.

That he became the long snapper when the two ahead of him on Maine’s depth chart were injured isn’t well known outside the Maine locker room. Long snappers don’t draw attention when they’re perfect.

You say it’s Cosgrove’s fault that he didn’t have the foresight to groom one or the other last season? Think back. So many of the nine victories were won in the fourth quarter, sometimes on the last series. Smith wasn’t coming out.

Coaches can rotate running backs, receivers, linemen, linebackers – every position but quarterback.

“We have our own rhythms,” said Wasilewski. “One guy has to step up and take the job.”

Cosgrove didn’t seem worried Tuesday. He’s dealt with the cycle of football for 20 years. Players come, leave, and someone new and younger takes their place.

Maine fans know about another cycle of wonderful surprises that are followed by disappointment. Not all of the Misfit Toys can be recast.

Wasilewski and Ebeling are football sophomores this year. Raw and untested.

One is going to take over a 9-4 playoff team.

They paid attention last season. To Smith’s game management, certainly. How Smith and Treister treated each other wasn’t lost on them, either.

Treister wanted the starting role. He believed that he was ready.

“We saw how close (Warren) and Chris were,” said Wasilewski. “They helped each other out. If Chris was on the sideline, he’d see what Warren was doing and tell him.” The good and the bad.

Ebeling glanced at Wasilewski. “We support each other,” he said.

Wasilewski saw how many extra hours Smith spent watching film of opposing defenses, sometimes until midnight and long after others had gone back to dorms or apartments. Smith understood that he had to cut down his turnovers and incompletions if Maine was going to win and he was going to keep his job.

Wasilewski took mental notes. Cosgrove likes the example set but believes this: “You learn best when you’re breathing heavy.”

Wasilewski returns to his home in Kulpmont, a small community east of State College, Pa., for a month. He’ll work at a gun club. Ebeling goes back to Mahwah in northern New Jersey and will work at a gym.

They know too well what they’ve done wrong this month in spring practice. The idea, they said, is to learn what they can do right.

Quickly.

 

Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at: [email protected]