ORONO - Sometime late in the afternoon on Saturday, after the University of Maine ends its home football season against Georgia State, Josh Spearin will peel off his dark blue Black Bears game jersey for the final time.
As he’s pulling No. 74 over his shoulder pads, Spearin can reflect on his roots in Limington and at Bonny Eagle High, and on his accomplishments in Orono, where he has been a four-year starter on the offensive line.
“It’s bittersweet,” said the 21-year-old left tackle before a recent practice. “But there’s so many other things that I’m looking forward to doing that it’s not a drastic change to me.”
There are trout swimming in Second Musquacook Lake, up in northern Aroostook County, that have been safe from Spearin’s fishing gear since his junior year in high school.
That will change in May, when Spearin plans to join several family members on what had been an annual wilderness camping trip.
May also brings graduation, and a degree in Environmental Science with a concentration in Soil and Water. He’s looking at two potential career paths, one as a construction site evaluator and the other as an environmental consultant.
“I want to work outside and I want to do something along the lines of physical labor,” Spearin said. “I like to be active and using my hands and keeping myself busy.”
Of course, there’s also the possibility that a National Football League team will invite Spearin to be active and use his hands to open holes and protect quarterbacks. At 6-foot-4 and 295 pounds, Spearin isn’t big enough to play left tackle in pro football, a position that has risen in stature as protector of a quarterback’s blind side, “but that doesn’t mean he can’t play left guard,” said Maine Coach Jack Cosgrove. “We can provide the tape and they do the evaluation. Then, once that’s done, if they want to talk to us about him as a young man, then they’re going to hear all the right things.”
Words such as intelligent, consistent, hard-working, focused, steady, durable and poised.
“Josh is a really smart guy,” said fifth-year linebacker Donte Dennis. “Going against him is going to be a chess match. You might get him, but he’s going to get you right back.”
The Black Bears close out their home season Saturday still looking for their first victory at Alfond Stadium, where all four games have brought gray skies, rain or the threat of it, and a disappointing loss to Albany, Villanova, New Hampshire and James Madison, all of which have been ranked among the national Football Championship Subdivision’s Top 25 this month.
This weekend’s opponent is Georgia State (1-9), which is bidding adieu to Coach Bill Curry, who played center between Jerry Kramer and Fuzzy Thurston when Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers won the first Super Bowl.
With Maine at 3-6, neither team is worrying about playoff possibilities. Instead, there is pride and commitment and a sense of seeing something through to the end.
Kevin Cooper, Spearin’s high school coach — and U.S. history teacher — at Bonny Eagle, said the maturity on display as a college senior was evident as a high school sophomore.
“I think he’s done Maine high school football proud,” Cooper said. “Coming from a small town to grow up and play for our state university, it’s really a testament to what he’s all about.”
Not all sailing has been smooth for Spearin. A torn labrum his freshman year required surgical repair. A hyperextended knee and a torn hip flexor cost him some games his sophomore year.
Spearin worked hard to rehabilitate those injuries and hasn’t missed a game as a junior or senior. After Georgia State, Maine finishes its season at Rhode Island next weekend.
That New Hampshire (8-2) is headed to the NCAA playoffs for a ninth straight season is a fact not lost on Spearin, who turned down a Wildcats scholarship offer (as well as one from Northeastern, which no longer fields a football program) in order to play for his state university.
“I’m very happy with that choice,” Spearin said. “I really wanted a chance to play for my home state and to represent the people who I grew up around and everyone who helped me along the way.”
Two of those folks — mom Heidi and dad Jeffrey — will be in the Alfond stands on Saturday. Josh’s older brother, Matt, played for two seasons at Maine, so they understand the demands required of Division I athletes.
“He’s always been very tenacious,” Heidi Spearin said of Josh.
He’s still holding on, still working outside with his body and his mind, proudly wearing the Maine jersey one last time in Orono. And when it’s over, he won’t be lingering in the locker room.
“You’ve got to have something else you’re passionate about when you’re done football,” he said. “I’m lucky enough to have those things, whether it’s camping, hunting, fishing or a career. (Football) will be a good chapter in my life, but I think I’ll be able to move on pretty easily.”
Staff Writer Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at: