ORONO — The University of Maine’s football players and coaches are well aware of the stakes in Saturday’s 1 p.m. game at nationally ranked Villanova.

A win evens Maine’s record at 2-2 and gives them their first Colonial Athletic Association win after tough losses to New Hampshire and James Madison (the top-ranked FCS team in the nation). A loss drops Maine to 0-3 in the CAA and could end their playoff hopes.

“There’s a lot weighing on this game,” said wide receiver Jaleel Reed.

And the Black Bears will have perhaps their most dynamic offensive threat back. Wide receiver Micah Wright will play his first game this season, returning from a suspension that kept him away from the team for nearly eight weeks.

Wright was one of the three players suspended Aug. 1 by the university while the Student Conduct Office in the Division of Student Life investigated a student complaint against them.

Wright’s suspension was lifted Sept. 20 but he didn’t have time to join the team for its game at James Madison four days later.

Running back Darian Davis-Ray was cleared to return Aug. 11 and has played in two games, rushing for 43 yards. Defensive lineman Uchenna Egwuonwu remains suspended.

Wright’s return comes at an opportune time for the Black Bears. Led by Josh Mack, the nation’s leading FCS rusher with 167.3 yards per game, the Black Bears have the second-best running game in the CAA. But they are going against a rush defense that ranks first in the CAA and fourth in the nation, allowing just 56.8 yards per game.

Wright’s return could open up Maine’s offense, especially against a defense missing its best player, safety Rob Rolle, who is out for the year with a knee injury.

Wright, a preseason all-CAA selection after catching 105 passes for 1,486 yards and 12 touchdowns over the last two years, is simply glad to back on the field. There were times during his suspension when he didn’t think he would have that chance.

“It was my second offense,” he said, referring to an incident in the spring of 2016 that led to a two-game suspension to start last season. “So that leaves some doubt in your mind. There were good days and some bad days. For a while there were a lot of bad days. Once it was finally over I was very grateful. This is a blessing.”

Wright, a communications major, wouldn’t discuss what led to the latest suspension but said he let his teammates down for a second consecutive year – “I potentially cost us some wins” – and is looking to redeem himself.

“I’ve just got to go make better choices off the field,” he said. “It’s easy to get caught up in a lot of stuff that goes on up here. It’s a privilege to be on the football team and attend the university, and I need to take that more seriously and stop taking things for granted. I just need to try to do my part and be a better person off the field.”

He was unable to have any contact with the team during his suspension. He had to work out on his own, eat on his own – “I was on the raman noodle diet for a while” – and lost weight. He’s just now feeling comfortable and is working on his timing with redshirt freshman quarterback Chris Ferguson. The two have had little time to work together. Wright missed most of spring football with an ankle injury.

“We’re going through different (pass) routes, seeing how he plays balls differently from the other guys,” said Ferguson.

“It’s coming,” said Wright. “I think we’re doing a good job and that we’ll click on Saturday. How much I go and how many reps I get is up to the coaches. But I’m ready to contribute any way I can.”

Coach Joe Harasymiak said Wright will be eased back into the lineup but “we’ll have certain plays for him in certain packages.”

Reed is excited about Wright’s return. “I think he’s going to make it easier on all of us,” said Reed. “When we have me, Micah and Earnest (Edwards) on the field together, and then go four-wide with Jared (Osumah) … it’s going to be tough.”

Offensive coordinator Liam Coen said Wright’s impact on the team goes beyond his ability.

“It’s about what he does during the week,” said Coen. “It’s his practice habits, how he approaches practice, the energy he brings to practice. He will definitely raise the level of our practices the way he conducts himself.”

Wright said he was humbled by the suspension and apologized to teammates. “This is the one thing I love doing,” he said. “Football is my life, this team is my life, these guys are my life. … From this point on I’m just trying to keep my name clean, be a better teammate and person, and help us pick up some wins.”

Harasymiak has stressed the importance of Saturday’s game: “You can’t start 0-3 (in the CAA).”

The players understand. “This is a game we need,” said Reed. “We’re tired of just being in the game and having the lead or feeling like we should have gotten the win and having people say, ‘You guys played hard.’ We’re in a lot of games, we’ve got to finish them now. We’ve got to take that next step.”

Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or:

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