ORONO — Defensive players wore dark blue jerseys. Offensive players wore white jerseys.

And on the first morning practice of the 2012 football season for the University of Maine, two guys wore red, a warning to teammates to avoid hitting them.

Neither Marcus Wasilewski nor John Ebeling has taken a snap over center in a football game since the fall of 2008, when they were high school seniors in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, respectively.

One of them will be the primary quarterback for the Black Bears this fall, taking over from the first 3,000-yard passer in the program’s 120-year history, Warren Smith.

It marks the fourth straight year Maine has entered pre-season training camp with some type of competition for starting quarterback, but with Smith and Chris Treister departed, head coach Jack Cosgrove has zero game experience to go on.

“There’s a newness to the situation now,” Cosgrove said after Tuesday’s practice. “You see what their strengths are. Obviously, we’re big believers here, as a staff, in featuring strengths. We’re not going to ask a quarterback to do things he can’t do.

“So there’s a discovery part to this. We need to make darn sure, if it’s Marcus or it’s John, that what we’re doing fits who they are.”

The Black Bears have other holes to fill, namely in the defensive line and secondary, and at tailback and fullback, but the spotlight naturally falls on the guy with the ball in his hands on every play.

Both Wasilewski and Ebeling saw action last fall, most often when Maine punted. Ebeling was – and remains – the long snapper and Wasilewski called signals and protected the punter.

Late in the season, after injuries thinned the receiving ranks, Ebeling was used as a slot back and he wound up catching touchdown passes in both playoff games.

“It was fun, a great experience,” said Ebeling, who at 6-foot-4 has three inches on Wasilewski. Both are listed at 205 pounds.

“Being a quarterback, you have to know every position on the field, so it’s really nothing new to me when I’m playing out there,” Ebeling said. “I felt comfortable there at the end of the year.”

Although Ebeling played some slot in spring practice, he is working solely at quarterback in preseason camp, with each taking the same number of snaps.

“It’s definitely a competition,” Wasilewski said. “One of the things that Coach has stressed is that competition is one of the best things for you.”

Like their predecessors, Wasilewski and Ebeling are friends who talk frequently and share insights and suggestions. Cosgrove said passing is Wasilewski’s best suit while Ebeling is the superior runner.

Whoever earns the starting nod will benefit from a solid support system. The interior offensive line returns four of five starters along with Joe Hook, a 2010 starter who missed last season. Returning receivers include Maurice McDonald, who led the team with 58 catches despite missing the final four games because of injury, and tight end Justin Perillo (51 catches, four TDs).

“They’re doing a great job as far as technique and everything they need to do,” said Josh Spearin, the Bonny High graduate at left tackle who is entering his fourth year as a starter. “The biggest change for them is offense management: coming and keeping a calm, clear head and not listening to all the noise. … They really need to learn to slow things down, be focused, be calm and get everyone on the same page. Then we can go.”

How far the Black Bears go this fall remains to be seen. They reached the NCAA playoffs for the second time in four years last fall, advancing to the Football Championship Subdivision quarterfinals before finishing with a 9-4 record and a ranking as high as No. 8 in national polls.

After two days of practice in helmets and shorts, they’ll add shoulder pads Wednesday and Thursday before suiting up fully on Friday. Scrimmages are scheduled for Aug. 20 and 28 before they open the season at Boston College on Sept. 8.

“We do want a (number) one,” Cosgrove said of his quarterback situation. “We’re not going to put a deadline on it. You’re hoping those things sort themselves out.”


Staff Writer Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at: [email protected]

Twitter: GlennJordanPPH