Josh Spearin of Limington is putting the finishing touches on his University of Maine bachelor’s degree in environmental science, taking the final 14 credits he needs for the diploma he will receive later this month.

Around campus in Orono, Spearin sees many of his old football teammates, and remains close with his fellow linemen and quarterback Marcus Wasilewski. A four-year starter at left tackle, Spearin protected Wasilewski’s blind side last fall as the quarterback gained experience during a 5-6 campaign that paved the way for this season’s unprecedented 10-2 record and first Colonial Athletic Association championship.

Spearin enrolled at Maine in the fall of 2009 with Wasilewski and other current Black Bear standouts, including cornerback Kendall James, wide receiver Derrick Johnson, defensive end Michael Cole, linebacker Troy Eastman, slot receiver John Ebeling, tight end Justin Perillo, safety Jamal Clay, guard Jeff Gakos and tackle Joe Hook.

“Watching them is a little hard because you wish you were out there with them because you came in with them,” said Spearin, who has attended four of the five home games. “Nonetheless we’re excited and proud for all of them. It’s been great to see them have their success. It’s their time to shine.”

The difference between Spearin and the current fifth-year seniors is he played as a true freshman and thus used up his four years of eligibility last fall. Others in that sterling recruiting class include cornerback Darlos James, receiver Maurice McDonald and linebacker Troy Russell, all of them starters in 2012 who could have made this year’s Black Bears even more formidable had they been held out in their first collegiate fall.

Does Coach Jack Cosgrove regret playing them as freshmen?

“Always,” he said, seated behind his office desk with the CAA championship trophy resting on a nearby chair. “That’s an always yes. No matter how you try to justify it in your mind, the 18-year-old is not the guy you want playing. It’s the 22-year-old who’s been in your program four years that you want playing. That’s something you lament all the time.”

But there are times when injuries force Cosgrove to turn to the next guy on the depth chart. If the next guy is a freshman, Cosgrove may hesitate, but “at some positions you just get forced to do it,” he said. “Injuries and depth are things you can’t control.”

James, reached by phone in Mt. Vernon, N.Y., where he is working out in hopes of getting another shot to play pro football after his experience last spring at a Detroit Lions rookie minicamp, said he is proud of his classmates and their accomplishments.

“We worked hard together for four years,” said James, who saw the Black Bears in their 33-27 road victory over Albany last month.

“Their success, I feel, is also my success.”

Playing as a true freshman brought its own rewards.

“I don’t have any regrets,” he said, “but I would have loved to be playing by those guys’ sides for another year.”

Spearin will miss Saturday’s second-round tournament game against rival New Hampshire, the first NCAA playoff game ever in Orono, because he will be in Greater Portland bringing his resume to firms that might be looking for someone with experience in mapping wetlands, someone who also knows the value of hard work and of being a good teammate.

“Looking back it’s a little bittersweet,” Spearin said. “I think I would have been a better player (now) had I had that year to develop, but I loved every year I played. Everyone thinks they could have been better that fifth year, but I could have had a terrible injury or something.”

Instead, regardless of when their eligiblity expired, Spearin, James, McDonald and Russell know they were part of something special. They may not be with the Black Bears in uniform Saturday at Alfond Stadium, but they will be there in spirit, knowing they contributed to the success their classmates are enjoying.

Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at:

Gjordan@pressherald.com

Twitter: GlennJordanPPH