It’s only Week 1, but the University of Maine football team may be facing its biggest individual test of the season Saturday.
Norfolk State is visiting Orono, and bringing along a linebacker who is larger and faster than anyone you’ll see at that position at the FCS level.
Lynden Trail is certainly looking forward to showing what he can do.
“We don’t have any holes in our defense,” the 6-foot-7, 265-pound All-American said. “We’ve got a championship-caliber team this year, and we’re going to prove it.”
Trail grew up in Miami, alongside Teddy Bridgewater, who went on to star at Louisville and is now the backup quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings. Trail was a lanky wide receiver then, a good enough leaper to high jump 6-foot-8 in high school.
His fortunes took a turn one day during an “Oklahoma” drill before his junior season. The offensive players were complaining that the drill was built to favor the defense, so the coach decided to test that theory. He had the offensive players take on the defensive assignments. Trail lined up at defensive end, and was unstoppable.
He switched sides and turned into a top-100 national recruit. As a senior, he faced his old friend Bridgewater and sacked him three times.
Trail chose to attend the University of Florida, where he redshirted one year and didn’t play a down the next. That’s how he ended up at Norfolk State of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.
It was a godsend for Coach Pete Adrian.
“He can dominate a ballgame,” Adrian said. “There’s three to five pro scouts in here every day, so that tells you something.”
Trail is free to roam the field for the Spartans, in search of the best opportunity to disrupt an offense. He is a linebacker in Norfolk State’s 3-4 defensive scheme, but can still play on the line when the occasion is right.
Last season, he recorded 94 tackles with 81/2 sacks. He tied for best in the nation with five forced fumbles, intercepted two passes and deflected eight more. The Spartans’ defense ranked 13th in the FCS, but the team finished just 3-9, including a 23-6 home loss to Maine.
Trail, a mass communications major who aspires to a career at ESPN when his playing days are done, is not lacking in confidence. He talks about the two interceptions he was credited with, but also two others that he should have had. As for the five forced fumbles? There was actually a sixth, on a kick return against Rutgers, that he should have been awarded.
“In my mind, I led the nation,” he said.
As if his defensive prowess isn’t enough, Trail also plays as a receiver in the red zone. He caught three touchdown passes last year.
“He’s unique in his size, his speed, his athleticism for this level. I don’t know that we’ve seen somebody like that, even in our league,” Maine Coach Jack Cosgrove said. “I don’t think we’re changing our game plan for him. It comes down to man-on-man situations, our guy versus him. We’ll have to recognize where he is.”
Fullback Carlton Charles will be one of the Black Bears charged with keeping Trail away from the quarterback.
Told that Trail was oozing confidence, Charles just smiled and nodded.
“Is he? I expect him to be,” he said. “I like those challenges. It gives us a good measuring stick as to where we’re going to be during the season.”
Trail is as engaging as he is brash. It’s obvious that he’s having fun with his sport.
“If you don’t believe in yourself, nobody will,” he explained.
Trail has gained 50 pounds since entering college, but says he can still run a sub-4.7 40-yard dash.
“I can see my abs. I’m proud of that,” he said.
Finally, Trail was asked for a prediction for Saturday’s game.
“I don’t make predictions,” he said, then paused.
“But we’re leaving Maine 1-0. In my mind, that’s not a prediction.”