PORTLAND – News, anyone have any news? A bit of grist for the Maine college football mill? A revelation?

Jack Cosgrove still doesn’t know if John Ebeling or Marcus Wasilewski will be the University of Maine quarterback this season, which is understandable. Maine’s players report Sunday. The fight for starting jobs begins Monday.

Chris McKenney hopes Maine Maritime Academy regains its swagger as the most productive small-college rushing team in the country. Hope or promise, Coach?

Sean Murphy counts 50 freshmen among the nearly 100 players drawing helmets and shoulder pads from Husson University’s equipment manager when its preseason begins. Husson lost all 10 games it played in 2011.

Thursday was the annual luncheon for the head coaches of the six college football programs in Maine, representing four very different conferences. It’s always more schmooze than news. Firm handshakes and sincere expressions of best-of-luck.

Even the head coaches of the fabled Bates-Bowdoin-Colby rivalry made nice. All three are gentlemen, not to be mistaken for election-year politicians.

I pulled Walt Abbott aside. He was Maine’s head coach from 1967-75. His son is Steve Abbott, Maine’s athletic director. His disciple is Cosgrove, who has been Maine’s head coach for 20 years. Walt Abbott and Dick McGee, the former Colby College football coach who was also in the room, each represent more than 50 years of college football in Maine.

If your world is college football, what’s the weather like, Walt?

“Blue skies,” said Abbott. No clouds on the horizon? He shook his head no.

Concussions, especially after the suicide of Junior Seau, the popular former NFL linebacker, have upset parents. His death was the latest among pro players dealing with head injuries.

Parents may steer their Jimmy or Joey away from football. Tedy Bruschi, the beloved former Patriots linebacker, questioned football as a contact sport for young players. So did Kurt Warner, the former star quarterback.

Thursday, six men were talking about the immediate prospects of their programs but weren’t those storm clouds on the horizon?

“We’re concerned and that’s a good thing,” said Abbott. “Medical people today are doing a great job educating and helping players and coaches identify concussions. The equipment is always getting better. But the important thing is, we are talking about it.”

He can remember when preseason practice consisted of brutal double sessions with full contact and thirsty players swallowing salt pills as big as your thumbnail. Water breaks were for wussies.

He remembers when coaches signaled for a student trainer to fetch ammonium carbonate, better know as smelling salts, when a woozy player left the field. A few whiffs later, the player was rejoining his teammates.

All of that has changed.

Pee Wee or Pop Warner leagues offering full-contact football may see participation numbers drop with fresh concerns over concussions. Cosgrove, for one, doesn’t see the advantage of pre-teens blocking and tackling.

Blue skies? Jerry Sandusky’s crimes against boys and the Penn State cover-up was a black cloud for everyone, not just the big-time college football community.

The National Football Foundations lists eight colleges or universities that started new programs in 2011. Six more will play competitively for the first time this season. Eight more are gearing up for 2013.

Which doesn’t mean college programs won’t go away. Cosgrove is a blue-sky guy. He also understands Maine weather. Wait five minutes and it can change.

“That’s why I’m in my office every day. The day I’m not working might be the day they decide to drop football.”

That’s got to be a cloud. Uh, uh, said Cosgrove. Blue skies.

His Black Bears lost three games in the last minute in 2010 and had a losing record. His critics popped up like spring weeds. A year later his team won two games in the last minute and a third in overtime and reached the playoffs. He was hailed.

“It’s a fine line between success and failure,” he said. “We didn’t beat ourselves.”

He listened as Bates’ Mark Harriman and Bowdoin’s Dave Caputi and Colby’s Jonathan Michaeles took their turns at the microphone, along with Murphy and McKenna. Each has different expectations, different challenges.

Kickoff luncheon as a schmooze fest. A thunderstorm might have washed the road dust off their cars parked outside. No one would have noticed.

Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at:

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