ORONO – The University of Maine football team hasn’t spent just the last week preparing for its season opener against Bryant. The Black Bears have spent months laying the groundwork for today’s 2011 kickoff against the Bulldogs.

“We’ve been here all summer and there are times I’d walk by the film room and I’d see guys watching film on Bryant,” Maine running back Pushawn Brown said. “It’s not like this is our first week of watching film on Bryant. Guys are prepared.”

After a summer of training and after August’s preseason camp, the Black Bears face Bryant at 5 p.m. today at Alfond Stadium. There’s a sense of excitement and a touch of anxiety that comes with each season’s opener, which each player and each member of the coaching staff has focused on since the end of last season.

“We’re excited, but we have to look at this game like a business trip,” Maine quarterback Warren Smith said. “We’ve got to go in and treat this game like we’re taking care of business.

“Our emotions are going to be high, but we have to try to control them. The first game of the year, everyone is excited but we’ve got to be poised and go out there like most of us have been there and done this before.”

The Black Bears know they will improve on last year’s 4-7 record, a pursuit that will start this afternoon against the Bulldogs, a fourth-year FCS (Division I-AA) program.

“If we’re not prepared, shame on us,” Maine Coach Jack Cosgrove said. “It’s that beacon out there that you’ve known about since the end of your last season.

“You don’t spend the offseason talking about your fifth game or your ninth game. You talk about your first game. Because of it, the preparation is all on that one opponent. You talk about that one opponent rather than all the others combined because the most important football game you ever play is that next one.”

Today will be the first time the Bulldogs and Black Bears meet. Bryant Coach Marty Fine, whose team plays in the Northeast Conference, said he and his staff are not familiar with the Black Bears and instead are focusing focus on their own schemes in preparation for the season opener.

“The key is to get the players to be fast, to be physically ready and to adjust to the game and to whatever the team is doing,” Fine said. “This last week we’ve worked on Maine a little more. But until we go into our league games, we’re going to be fundamentally sound and work on what we can do and not what our opponent does.”

Maine defensive back Trevor Coston described Bryant’s offense as a “run-first team” that boasts speed and experience in the backfield; in 2010, junior running back Jordan Brown ran for 1,410 yards and 15 touchdowns in 11 games, while the Bulldogs averaged 182.8 yards a game.

“They want to go fast to get people out of position,” Coston said. “They want to run the ball and we want to stop the run.”

Brown, Maine’s leading returning running back, said his team will prepare for a team that regularly storms the quarterback and a linebacking corps of experienced players.

“Their defense is a real blitz-heavy defense,” said Brown, a senior who ran for more than 100 yards in each of the final three games of the 2010 season. “Their starting linebackers are all experienced but they’re young in the defensive backfield. We expect them to come at us, and we have to focus on our run game.”

And after a spring and summer of preparation for the 2011 season, the Black Bears see today’s game as an opportunity to start fresh.

“The first game of the year, it’s different,” Coston said. “This is the first time you’re going to put your identity on the field. It’s a statement.” 

Staff Writer Rachel Lenzi can be reached at 791-6415 or at:

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