December 7, 2013

Some UMaine teammates gone, but a vital part of success

Those who played for the Black Bears as true freshmen set the stage for this year’s CAA championship team.

By Glenn Jordan gjordan@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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.

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Josh Spearin used his eligibility and won’t be on the field with others who enrolled at UMaine the same month, but his spirit remains with the team.

2011 Press Herald file/John Ewing

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New Hampshire (8-4) at Maine (10-2)

2 p.m. Saturday at Alfond Stadium, Orono

MAINE OUTLOOK: The fifth-seeded Black Bears have a rare opportunity to make amends for their only conference loss of the season, 24-3 in Durham two weeks ago. That game was one completion away from being a 10-10 tie in the third quarter, so don’t let the score fool you. One of the keys to the game is whether Maine can establish a running attack against a UNH defense that, outside of a 60-yard run by Rickey Stevens, held the Black Bears to 35 yards on the ground two weeks ago. QB Marcus Wasilewski is 113 passing yards shy of tying Warren Smith’s single-season Maine record of 3,122 in 2011. WR John Ebeling caught TD passes in each of his previous two playoff games. WR Damarr Aultman also has two TD receptions and TE Justin Perillo one. CB Axel Ofori, injured during his interception return in the final moments of the Rhode Island game three weeks ago, lasted only one play in Durham before limping off the field. His return could help contain New Hampshire’s high-powered offense. 

NEW HAMPSHIRE OUTLOOK: The Wildcats have won four in a row and seven of their last eight, including a 45-7 romp at home over Lafayette in the first round of the tournament. New Hampshire is 0-3 when facing a league opponent in the playoffs but has won 10 of its last 11 meetings with rival Maine, including the regular- season finale two weeks ago. An improved defense registered 15 sacks in the past two games, including five of Wasilewski. New Hampshire also blanketed Maine receivers, leading to Wasilewski’s first interception in 170 passes and a season-high 16 incompletions. UNH’s propensity for razzle- dazzle included two flea-flickers, an end-around and a fake punt with a reverse against Maine. One of those plays, a pass back to QB Andy Vailas, resulted in Vailas being knocked out of the game. He did not play in the second half nor against Lafayette, leaving Sean Goldrich in charge. R.J. Harris and Justin Mello are his favorite targets.

NCAA FOOTBALL

WHO: Maine (10-2) vs. New Hampshire (8-4)

WHEN: 2 p.m. Saturday

WHERE: Alfond Stadium, Orono

RADIO: WLOB-1310 AM

TELEVISION: ESPN3 (live streaming only for cable subscribers of ESPN, or Time Warner Cable channel 1532 for those with Sports Pass)

TICKETS: GoBlackBearsTickets.com, (207) 581-BEAR or (800) 756-TEAM.

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

 

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