ORONO — Two photographs of Jovan Belcher — a big one in color and a smaller one in black and white — hang in the narrow hallway between the football locker room and the coaches’ offices at the University of Maine.
Around the corner and down a few more hallways, behind the door to the weight room, Matt King, Maine’s assistant strength and conditioning coach, sat on a green exercise ball Saturday and sighed.
“He was like a brother to me,” said King, who wore a black jacket, black knitted cap, and an expression of mingled sorrow and regret.
A little more than three years after Belcher left campus with a degree in child development and family relations, and an illustrious football career that included co-captaincy, conference player of the year and All-America honors, he was in the news again.
According to reports out of Kansas City, Mo., where Belcher played linebacker for the NFL Chiefs, he was in the middle of a murder-suicide Saturday morning. The 25-year-old Belcher fatally shot his girlfriend, Kasandra Perkins, then drove to the Chiefs’ team complex. After thanking General Manager Scott Pioli and Coach Romeo Crennel for believing in him, Belcher turned the gun on himself.
“I feel sorry for all parties involved,” King said, “especially his recently born daughter.”
The couple’s daughter, Zoey, was born in early September, an occasion that prompted a congratulatory call from his old college coach, Jack Cosgrove.
“The Jovan that I know from his time in Orono was at the other end of the phone,” said Cosgrove, who spoke in front of the cameras and microphones Saturday afternoon, pausing occasionally to harness his emotions after choking up.
That young man, Cosgrove said, came to Maine from West Babylon, N.Y., where he was being recruited out of high school not for football but for wrestling.
“He’s truly one of the great stories in the program’s history,” Cosgrove said. “I’m hard-pressed to find or recall a young man who had more” — he stopped to take a breath before continuing — “of an impact in a positive way on his teammates and this football family in my time here.”
In addition to his success in football, Belcher earned his degree in 31/2 years. He also volunteered in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program and, as sadly ironic as it is now, took part in domestic violence awareness events.
Both Orono police and university police said Belcher had no history of criminal conduct while on campus.
His death, along with his taking the life of the mother of his daughter, left his old Orono community in a state of shock and mourning. Former players reached out all day to Cosgrove, who spoke with current players at a team meeting in the late afternoon.
Both Cosgrove and King made a point of expressing their condolences to the family of Perkins, the mother.
“I’m hoping that both families can come to peace with it, come to terms with it,” King said, “and that his daughter is taken care of.”
During Belcher’s campus visit, he stayed with King, a 2007 graduate who later became his mentor and, in what has become an honored tradition within the team, bequeathed his jersey number, 9, to the man who would succeed him at a hybrid linebacker position that requires the versatility to cover speedy receivers as well as muscle past hulking linemen.
Belcher passed on that number to current assistant coach Jordan Stevens, a Mt. Blue High graduate from Farmington, and Stevens gave it to Doug Alston, a fifth-year senior.
“He was a passionate guy,” King said from the quiet of the empty weight room. “Jovan was the type of person who would put 100 percent into everything he did.”
Belcher became known, King said, as “a high-motor guy” on the field and off. He gave back to the community. He was involved in the classroom. He finished everything he started.
“He was a good friend, a good teammate,” King said.
“It’s just a sad situation for everyone involved.”
Staff Writer Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at: