Tuesday, December 10, 2013
ORONO - Rarely has Rickey Stevens Jr. had anything handed to him, which is probably why, as the University of Maine prepares for its home opener, he may be handed the football repeatedly Saturday night.
Rickey Stevens Jr. got his first chance to play for UMaine on Saturday and gained 168 yards on 17 carries in a 51-7 victory against Bryant.
Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer
ALBANY (2-1, 1-0 NEC) at MAINE (1-1, 0-0 CAA)
WHEN: 6 p.m. Saturday
TELEVISION: WPXT Channel 12
RADIO: WLOB-AM (1310)
MAINE OUTLOOK: Maine beat Albany 31-15 last year in New York after opening a 24-0 lead. RB David Hood ran for 102 yards and two TDs in a 51-7 victory over Bryant and RB Rickey Stevens ran for 168 yards. QB Marcus Wasilewski went 14 of 20 for 229 yards, including a 75-yard score to WR Derrick Johnson. DB Kendall James and DB Khari Al-Mateen returned interceptions for TDs. WR Maurice McDonald has 84 catches and 900 yards for his career. Maine, ranked 22 and 23 in two national polls, has won four straight against regular-season nonconference FCS opponents.
ALBANY OUTLOOK: The Great Danes beat Colgate and Robert Morris before losing 31-24 at No. 5 Youngstown State. Coach Bob Ford, in his 40th year, has a 3-2 edge in the series against Maine, including a 3-0 victory to open the 2010 season in Orono. QB Will Flacchi threw for 228 yards (23 of 35) and two TDs last weekend. WR Cole King caught seven passes for 115 yards and a score. Albany is the defending Northeast Conference champion and last month announced the program, along with Stony Brook, would join the CAA in 2013.
-- Glenn Jordan
The Black Bears (1-1) will meet Albany (2-1) at 6 p.m. at Alfond Stadium in their final game as nonconference opponents. Next year Albany and Stony Brook will join Maine in the Colonial Athletic Association.
Stevens has emerged at tailback after gaining 168 yards on 17 carries in Saturday's 51-7 victory over Bryant in Smithfield, R.I.
His first college carry came in the second quarter and resulted in a 7-yard gain. On the second, he broke through the line and gained 46 yards. Stevens wound up averaging 9.9 yards per carry.
Not bad for a guy who entered training camp third on the depth chart, who ambled into Orono 18 months ago after transferring from an NAIA school in suburban Cleveland.
"Coach (Jack Cosgrove) was gracious enough to allow me to try out as a walk-on," Stevens said, "and from there I just wanted to work hard and earn a spot."
Stevens grew up in Rochester, N.Y., the son of an engineer (Rickey Sr.) and an administrative assistant (Jackie) who taught their son the value of a strong work ethic.
"My parents instilled that in me from a young age," he said. "They used to say, 'If it's worth having, it's not going to come easy.' "
So when Stevens first played organized football, as a diminutive seventh grader on a team that included older and bigger kids, he didn't see much action until a punt returner got hurt. The coaches noticed Stevens usually finished first in conditioning sprints, so they gave him a chance in a scrimmage.
"I ended up taking that punt return for a touchdown," Stevens remembered with a smile. "Going into high school, I wasn't the biggest kid. The high school coach wasn't sure I'd be able to play running back, but I got in the weight room and worked hard."
His opportunity arose as a sophomore on the junior varsity. The varsity starter and backup got injured in the season's first two games and Stevens was promoted. He ran for 125 yards in his first game and never left the varsity.
"It was a surprise to everybody because no one knew who I was," he said. "From then on, I just kept working hard."
Although he found success at Gates Chili High in Rochester -- 35 career touchdowns and 3,934 yards rushing, and numerous honors, including a national scholar-athlete award -- Stevens was ignored by Division I college coaches. High schools were full of shifty 5-foot-8, 165-pound running backs. Why should this one be special?
But a seed was planted when a former Maine offensive line coach, Frank Giufre, another product of western New York, visited Gates Chili and spoke to Stevens about the program in Maine.
"It sounded great to me," Stevens said, "so I always had it in the back of my mind."
Stevens enrolled at Notre Dame College in South Euclid, Ohio, and helped bring the program from a club sport to the intercollegiate level. He came to Maine in January 2011 and took part in spring practice.
"I don't recall Rickey ever talking, for the whole spring," Cosgrove said. "Just a hard-working kid who immersed himself in our program."
He earned a spot on special teams last fall, paid his dues on the scout team and found the ideal player to emulate: Pushaun Brown. Stevens watched, listened and learned from the veteran tailback, who shared tips on technique or assignment or what to key on.
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