Former UMaine linebacker Jovan Belcher has started all but one game for the Chiefs over the last two seasons.
By Tom Chard
The University of Maine football team had its best season in recent years last fall, making it to the quarterfinals of the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs and earning a No. 8 national ranking at season's end.
So it shouldn't come as a surprise that some Black Bears would draw the attention of the National Football League. For the first time in school history, five members of last year's team are headed to NFL training camps.
Jerron McMillian, a defensive back, was selected in the fourth round of last week's NFL draft by the Green Bay Packers. McMillian, chosen 133rd overall, is the highest UMaine draft pick since John Huard was selected in the fifth round in 1967 by the Denver Broncos, with the 113th overall pick.
Four of McMillian's teammates – running back Pushaun Brown, defensive back Trevor Coston, tight end Derek Buttles, and receiver Derek Sessions – were offered free-agent tryouts.
Session became the latest addition to the list Wednesday when he was offered a tryout with the Buffalo Bills. Buttles also will be in camp with the Bills, Brown signed with the New York Jets, and Coston signed with the Chicago Bears.
"There's a sense of excitement in the program for the young men and their opportunity," said UMaine Coach Jack Cosgrove. "We all feel a sense of pride for them getting a chance to play at the next level. Most players have a dream of being on a professional team. These guys have the opportunity. It's exciting."
Four players from Maine's 2005 team went to NFL camps the following year – Kevin McMahan, Montell Owens, Jermaine Walker and Ryan Waller. Owens has been a Pro Bowl special teams player for the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Besides Owens, four other former Black Bears played in the NFL last season – Chargers linebacker Stephen Cooper, Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher, and defensive end Mike DeVito and tight end Matthew Mulligan with the Jets. Mulligan is now with the St. Louis Rams.
Another ex-Black Bear, former Pro Bowl linebacker Lofa Tatupu, did not play last season but signed with the Atlanta Falcons in March.
For being such a football outpost compared to the rest of its Colonial Athletic Association rivals, Maine has had a remarkable number of players in demand by the NFL.
"It's not like we say come to Maine and you'll play in the NFL," said Cosgrove.
In 2009, Maine led all FCS schools with seven players on active NFL rosters.
"Because of our remoteness, we have a hard time getting players to look at us," said Cosgrove. "We have to work at it. Sometimes, we're fortunate in getting some very good players. It's a very healthy environment here. There aren't a lot of distractions. If they are willing to put in the work and go through the process of growing from an 18-year-old kid to a 22-year-old man, they can achieve a lot. It's a good environment for them."
Cosgrove also noted that having teammates get a shot in the NFL can serve as a motivating factor for the rest of the team.
Cosgrove said several teams showed interest in McMillian and Coston leading up to the draft.
"Both are defensive backs. We had scouts at our games and practices. They really do their homework," he said.
McMillian was a first team All-CAA selection and a second team FCS All-American safety last season. He's known as an excellent tackler.
SAFETY JOSE GUMBS, a 2007 graduate of Hebron Academy, signed a free-agent deal with the New Orleans Saints.
A native of Queens, N.Y., Gumbs spent three years at Hebron as part of Pop Warner football's Run to Daylight program.
A four-year starter at Monmouth University in New Jersey, the 5-10, 210-pound Gumbs led the Hawks in tackles in all four seasons.
Staff Writer Tom Chard can be contacted at 791-6419 or at: firstname.lastname@example.org