ORONO — Ten weeks into the college football season, Jack Cosgrove looks over a depth chart pockmarked with injured players and then, several afternoons each week, sees healthy young men flying around the turf of Morse Field during practice, full of youth and vigor.
The temptation to plug a hole or two with a freshman is real, but Cosgrove nearly always resists.
“It takes a tremendous amount of discipline not to play guys in the first year,” said Cosgrove, in his 21st season as head coach at the University of Maine. “Because as you get to the later part of the season, we’re pretty bare bones here. But you put a kid out on the field for one play, and he loses a season.”
Under NCAA rules, players are eligible for four seasons of competition, and usually have five years in which to exhaust that eligibility. The core of the team that has lifted Maine to such lofty heights this season – an 8-1 record, 5-0 in the Colonial Athletic Association and a No. 8 national ranking – is a group of seniors in their fifth fall on campus.
Quarterback Marcus Wasilewski, receivers Derrick Johnson, John Ebeling and Justin Perillo; offensive linemen Jeff Gakos, Joe Hook and Tyler Patterson; defensive end Michael Cole, linebacker Troy Eastman and defensive backs Kendall James and Jamal Clay all matriculated in Orono in 2009 but did not play a down their freshman year.
“You’re used to being on the field on both sides of the ball,” said freshman tight end Dakota Tarbox, who helped Thornton Academy win the Class A state title last November. “Now you’re only playing one side of the ball, and you’re not even getting on the field on Saturday.”
For home games, Tarbox suits up in his No. 45 jersey, warms up with the team and watches from the sidelines. When the Black Bears hit the road, as they will this Saturday against Albany (1-8), Tarbox and his fellow freshmen remain in Orono.
“It’s frustrating, but I’m definitely enjoying it,” Tarbox said. “I expected to come here and get myself on the field. It takes a while to realize that’s not how it works.”
The first rung of the college football ladder is the Scout Team. At practice, players gather behind an assistant coach holding up the diagram of a play favored by the upcoming opponent. They then run that play against Maine’s starting defense. The Scout Team defense also uses opposing schemes and coverages against Maine’s starting offense.
“That’s probably one of the reasons why we’ve been so successful, because the Scout Team has been giving us great looks,” said junior wide receiver Damarr Aultman.
Cosgrove and his staff are quick to praise Scout Team effort and quick to correct any lack thereof. Not only do the Black Bears recognize an outstanding player of the game on offense, defense and special teams after each victory, they honor a Scout Team player in each category.
Get used to this name: Vassili Grigorakos. He’s a freshman fullback with four Scout Team awards.
“Sometimes they give us a better look than we see in the games,” said junior strong safety Khari Al-Mateen. “It’s definitely a team effort, more of a team effort than people realize who are looking from the outside in.”
Upperclassmen make sure the Scout Team is celebrated rather than ostracized.
“It’s not like we’re the Players and they’re the Scouts,” Al-Mateen said. “We’re all a team. If they do something well, they get rewarded for it. If they do something bad, they get told about it. It’s the same for the starters.”
Spencer Carey, a freshman safety from Fairfield who played in two Class A state championship games with Lawrence High, said Al-Mateen has been particularly helpful with advice, as have Clay and Mike Mangiarelli, another junior safety.
“They tell us to stick with it, that freshman year is the hardest time,” Carey said, “especially because you know that you’re not going to step on the field on Saturday.”
So far only one true freshman has seen action this fall. Fullback Jeremy Salmon, the backup short snapper, was pressed into service against Bryant. Salmon has since played on the kickoff and kickoff coverage teams, but now has only three years of eligibility left.
The contributions from an 18-year-old straight out of high school will rarely match those from a 22-year-old with four full years of supervised weight training and immersion in collegiate football. So Cosgrove, as best he can, remains patient with his true freshmen, hoping they will blossom as fruitfully in a future fall as have his current crop of team leaders.
“We’re trying to keep this crew of first-year guys intact so that when they’re 22, they can flourish,” Cosgrove said”
He thought again of Maine’s immediate needs.
“But it’s hard.”
SEVERAL CAA TEAMS, including New Hampshire, have announced their 2014 schedules. Maine is still trying to fill an early open date. The Black Bears have a payday game worth $350,000 at Football Bowl Subdivision opponent Boston College on Sept. 20, following the University of Southern California into Chestnut Hill, Mass.
ATHLETIC DIRECTOR Steve Abbott is in the final stages of negotiation for a five-year footwear and apparel contract with New Balance, which operates factories in Norridgewock, Norway and Skowhegan. A contract with Adidas that lasted five years ended June 30.
Abbott also said the university will formally report to the NCAA violations in the women’s ice hockey program of the head coach observing captains’ practices and voluntary workouts. Maria Lewis, who had been on administrative leave since Sept. 16, resigned in late October.
Assistant coaches Richard Reichenbach and Sara Simard Reichenbach are sharing head coaching duties.
MEN’S HOCKEY continues its Hockey East schedule this weekend with home games against Vermont Friday and Saturday nights. Maine is 3-3-1 overall, 0-1-1 in HE and unbeaten in three home games. The Catamounts (2-2-1, 1-1-0) are coming off a split with Hockey East newcomer Notre Dame.
MEN’S BASKETBALL opens Friday at Rhode Island. Women’s basketball opens Monday against USM at Bangor’s new Cross Insurance Center.
Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at: