ORONO – College football has no waiver wire. No quick fix to solve a problem at a particular position.
So when University of Maine Coach Jack Cosgrove found his team thin at defensive tackle — in size and in depth — he had two options.
1. Look for someone to transfer from another program.
2. Develop from within.
“We’re just not big transfer fans,” said Cosgrove, who nonetheless has received valuable contributions this season from tailback Zedric Joseph, safety Lamar Fitzgerald and defensive end Jonathan Louis, transfers all. “We prefer to develop our guys. We prefer to see a freshman become a senior.”
The Black Bears had junior Matt Wilson coming back as a starting nose tackle, but the other interior line position on defense was vacant.
No longer is that the case. Darius Greene and Pat Ricard, a pair of redshirt freshmen, have filled the void and become a big part of why the Black Bears are 4-1 heading into Saturday’s game against visiting Delaware, a Colonial Athletic Association opponent also standing at 4-1.
Maine is ranked 23rd nationally. Delaware is 24th in one poll and 25th in another.
“It starts and ends right there, with our front defensive line and their ability to stop the run,” said Maine defensive line coach Jordan Stevens, a former linebacker and defensive end for the Black Bears who played his high school ball at Mt. Blue. “If we can’t stop the run with our two inside guys and our defensive ends, it’s going to be a long day.”
Conversely, when Maine gums up the works for opposing offenses, as was the case against Richmond (65 rushing yards in a 28-21 loss) and UMass (64 yards in a 24-14 loss), the Black Bears often have a field day.
Greene and Ricard complement each other. At 6-foot-2 and 284 pounds, Greene handles more of the run-stopping duties. He’s the starter and plays more on first and second downs. Ricard, who is 6-2 and 250, comes in for third downs and obvious passing situations.
Although he has yet to record a sack (the stat crew in Richmond mistakenly credited him with one that actually belonged to Trevor Bates), Ricard first drew notice with his pass-rushing abilities in the intrasquad Jeff Cole Spring Scrimmage.
“He was outstanding,” Cosgrove said. “We said, ‘We can’t block Ricard. We can’t block him.’ “
Greene recorded his first sack in Maine’s only loss, 35-21, against the highest-rated Football Bowl Subdivision team the Black Bears have ever played, No. 16 Northwestern.
“It felt amazing,” Greene said. “I didn’t really know how to celebrate so I just got up.”
Quiet and reserved, Greene is starting to open up more after a challenging first year in Orono. The Black Bears didn’t recruit him until after the spring signing date, when he had decided to attend a prep school for a post-grad year because “I didn’t have the (scholarship) offers I wanted,” he said.
Instead, he headed to out-of-the-way Orono from busy Long Island (Medford, N.Y.), a transition that was a bit of a culture shock. “A little rough,” he called it. “But I had my teammates to back me up. I got used to it. I’m having fun now.”
Ricard, who played linebacker throughout his high school career near Worcester, Mass., was similarly overlooked. No other Division I school offered him a scholarship. He arrived in Orono as a defensive end, but an abundance of ends and a dearth of tackles led to the switch.
“Last year, my first day of camp I didn’t even know how to get in a stance,” Ricard said. “So everything is new. I’m still learning every day.”
A year spent in a college-level speed, strength, nutrition and conditioning regimen made a big difference for both Greene and Ricard, whose opportunity to play football last fall was limited to the scout team.
“With Darius, we wanted him to lose some weight and tone his body,” Cosgrove said. “With Patrick, we wanted him to grow and get bigger, because we felt like he had the potential for growth in the chest, the legs, the butt. They both bought into it.”
Their improvement became apparent in the spring and their continued development through training camp in August proved to be critical to Maine’s fast start. The only other redshirt freshman with similarly significant playing time is middle linebacker Christophe Mulumba.
“We’re talking about two redshirt freshmen starting inside for us, and being really productive for us, on a defense that requires great discipline,” Cosgrove said. “A lot of what we do (on defense) is predicated on what the guys up front do, in terms of how they hit their gaps, because we’re going to pressure you.”
Ricard, with 17 tackles in five games, and Green, with 12, are more valuable than their statistics. Filling up space and tying up blockers frees teammates to make big plays. Among the chief beneficiaries of Greene, Ricard and Wilson toiling in the trenches are linebackers Cabrinni Goncalves, Troy Eastman and Mulumba, who has twice been named CAA Rookie of the Week.
“Those are the guys getting the sacks and the tackles for loss,” Cosgrove said, “because of the work these guys are doing.”
Still in progress, that work continues on Saturday afternoon.
Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at: