Jack Cosgrove oversees the state’s only NCAA Division I football program at the University of Maine.
Thursday it was obvious how much he had in common with the state’s five Division III programs: Bowdoin, Bates, Colby, Maine Maritime Academy and Husson.
The coaches from the state’s six college football programs gathered at the Howard Johnson Conference Center for the eighth annual National Football Foundation Kick-off Luncheon. Each gave a brief synopsis of their hopes for the season, which begins Monday with Maine’s first practice. Division III schools don’t begin until later in August.
Each spoke with the excitement and optimism you would expect this time of year.
“As a coach,” said Mark Harriman, entering his 17th year at Bates, “if you can’t get excited with your team coming in, it’s time to do something else.”
Cosgrove, noting his fast-approaching first practice, added, “I don’t sleep much now. I wake up at 3 (a.m.) and go to work. That’s because football is here.”
Maine obviously plays at a level far higher than the state’s other programs, able to attract top talent with scholarship offers. But football in Division III, which can’t offer athletic scholarships, is just as important to those schools.
“Football is football,” said Harriman, a Westbrook native. “I think some of it is the talent level (in Division I) is certainly different. Before I came to Bates, I was a coach at Division I. If you have the right attitude for football, it doesn’t matter what level you’re at.
“We’re looking for guys who want to play at (Boston College) but might not be physically able to play at BC. That passion and that drive for the game of football is what we’re looking for. I don’t think that’s different at any level.”
Bates and Colby are coming off 4-4 seasons. Husson was 5-5 in 2013, Bowdoin was 3-5 and Maine Maritime 1-8.
The Division III programs haven’t won a lot lately. Bowdoin and Colby haven’t had winning seasons since 2005, but winning is still important to the players and coaches at those schools.
“It matters to me,” said Dave Caputi, in his 15th season as Bowdoin’s coach. “It matters absolutely. It always matters. (Winning) is very important. I think we attract a good group of kids. There have been some years we have been closer to being good than others. We just have to make sure we’re doing the best things we can as a football staff to make sure our kids are successful.”
Jon Michaeles, the Colby coach, said there are different ways to gauge success.
“Everybody has a different definition of success and what they want out of the program,” he said. “With our kids we define success by their and our collective commitment to reaching their full potential.
“Bear in mind that finishing in the upper echelon of (the New England Small College Athletic Conference) is very important to us and winning a (Colby-Bates-Bowdoin) championship is a tangible goal that we set every year. We don’t spend a lot of time talking about wins and losses, we focus on the process but it is something we value, for sure.”
Bates, Bowdoin and Colby also have strict academic guidelines recruits must meet to even be considered.
That tends to shrink the recruiting pool for the NESCAC teams. But, said Harriman, it all evens out.
“It trickles down,” he said. “And there’s more players that are capable of playing Division III than there are for Division I.”
When Gabby Price, the Husson coach, recruits a player, he sells the schools’ academic programs and then taps into the recruit’s desire to continue playing.
“College football isn’t for everyone,” he said. “But it’s for a lot more people than they think.”
When Chris McKenney, the Maine Maritime coach, recruits someone, he talks about the school’s graduation placement rate, which is high.
“We hope to get them on campus so they can see what a great place we are and what a great reputation we have,” he said. “And that’s what it comes down to in this day in age – once you graduate, to have a bunch of job offers.”