November 21, 2011

College Notebook: Black Bears' walk-on sprinting to finish line

By Kevin Thomas
Staff Writer

ORONO - One of these days, someone is going to talk some sense into Raibonne Charles.

click image to enlarge

Raibonne Charles is "as good a story that you could come up with," said UMaine Coach Jack Cosgrove.

John Ewing/Staff Photographer

Raibonne Charles, Anthony Ferrer
click image to enlarge

Raibonne Charles, a defensive lineman at UMaine, is fifth on the team in tackles this year with 45, 20 unassisted. He takes pride in proving his doubters wrong.

The Associated Press file

Kids who walk onto the University of Maine football team are rare enough, but a player from Maine who wants to start all four years ... get serious.

And students without a strong background in science and math might sneak their way into the forestry program at Maine, but they can't expect to keep up.

Right, Raibonne?

"I took it all in and listened," Raibonne Charles said. "But I knew I could figure it out."

Charles, 22, of Windham, will be graduating next spring with a degree in forestry.

And on Saturday, Dec. 3, he will start his 41st game for the Black Bears when they begin the NCAA playoffs.

"Over the years here, there have been great stories," said Jack Cosgrove, now in his 19th season as Maine's head coach. "He's as good a story that you could come up with.

"He's a kid, I can still remember meeting. A wide-eyed kid, driven to play football at Maine. Believed in himself. We gave him that opportunity as a walk-on."

When Charles first began playing at Windham High, he was already close to 6-foot tall, and big and quick.

"People started telling me that I could play football at a high level," Charles said. "Unfortunately after my sophomore year, I didn't grow much more. Then I had an injury. Toward the end of my junior year, I wondered if I was going to go to college."

Charles was an All-State player his senior year and colleges wanted him. Several Division II schools were in contact.

They offered two things: scholarship money and a chance to play right away.

Instead, Charles wanted to play at Maine. He would get no scholarship money right away -- that would have to be earned -- and he would redshirt his first year, meaning he would not be eligible to play.

"Nothing was guaranteed," Charles said. "It made me want to work and earn my place at the table. Wanted to prove myself to my teammates and my coaches that I belong here, and that I was going to help out."

At 6-foot, 235 pounds, Charles was considered a small defensive lineman. Maine coaches wondered if he could hold up in Division I football.

"I guess you could call him a marginal recruit,," Cosgrove said, "someone we had questions about."

Charles demonstrated the passion that has always fueled his play. As a redshirt, he went all out in game situations in practice, and was named the scout team's co-player of the year.

Charles was named a starter his redshirt freshman year. That 2008 season, Charles was named the Defensive Rookie of the Year, starting all 13 games for the playoff-bound Black Bears.

Off the field, Charles was fighting to stay in the forestry program.

"It's a hard program to stay in, especially as a student-athlete," Charles said. "Some of their classes made me late for practice. Had to work with teachers and coaches to make it work."

A few times, Charles was asked if he was sure he could handle the academic load.

"It was talked about," he said, recalling all the naysayers. "'Are you sure this is what you want to do? This is going to be a tough road. You're not good at math. You know you don't want to take science classes"'

Charles smiled at the memory.

"It's difficult, but it's enjoyable," he said.

Cosgrove also smiled and said, "He's proven a lot of people wrong in both the academic and athletic world up here."

(Continued on page 2)

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