ORONO – A long-standing tradition with the University of Maine football team is the Senior Will.

At the end of a season, a player who has used up his eligibility is expected to pass on to a younger teammate something tangible, something funny and something from the heart. Often the item is his jersey number.

“There’s a tremendous sense of pride in who gets their shirt,” said Coach Jack Cosgrove. “It’s become a huge tradition.”

So safety Jerron McMillian, now with the Green Bay Packers, bequeathed his No. 1 to linebacker Donte Dennis, the leader of this year’s defensive unit.

Raibonne Charles, a Windham native who became a four-year starter on the defensive line, passed his No. 92 to Trevor Bates, an unheralded freshman from Westbrook who has yet to play a down in college.

On Saturday, Bates will be a starting defensive end as the Black Bears open their season at Boston College. Game time is 1 p.m. at Alumni Field in Chestnut Hill, Mass., with ESPN3 televising it.

“This was one of those feel-good moments for me, was his development,” Cosgrove said of Bates, who moved up on the depth chart with an impressive training camp. “I get a rush out of elevating guys and giving them more scholarship money because they’ve earned it.”

Bates is one of several first-time starters on both sides of the ball for Maine, which is coming off a 9-4 season and looking for its third NCAA playoff appearance in five years, an accomplishment unmatched in school history.

The Black Bears open with three nonconference opponents (at Bryant and hosting Albany are the others) before beginning their Colonial Athletic Association schedule.

Junior quarterback Marcus Wasilewski and sophomore David Hood are taking over from the prolific tandem of Warren Smith and Pushaun Brown, a 3,000-yard passer and a 1,000-yard runner, respectively.

The interior line and receiving corps is loaded with veterans, including wideouts Maurice McDonald and Damarr Aultman, and tight end Justin Perillo, the three leading pass catchers from last fall.

“We’re still growing as a team right now,” said senior left tackle Josh Spearin, a four-year starter from Limington. “We’ve still got players developing. We’ve still got people who are messing up on some assignments. But we’re getting really close to being a finished product.”

Spearin, senior guard Chris Howley, and juniors Jeff Gakos (guard) and Garret Williamson (center) are returning starters, and right tackle Joe Hook, a junior, started in 2010 before missing last season because of injury.

On defense, Dennis returns from Tommy John surgery as a fifth-year senior to anchor a unit experienced at linebacker, cornerback and defensive end, but relatively untested up the middle. The safeties (sophomore Khari Al-Mateen and junior Jamal Clay) and interior defensive linemen (senior Kris Enslen, sophomores Matt Wilson and Devin Clark, junior Alban Dedvujak, and grad student David Toriola) are new.

“I’m excited about our (defensive) line,” said Dennis, who led the team in tackles in 2010 and 2009. “I feel like they’re going to keep blockers off us linebackers so we can make some plays.”

Cornerbacks Darlos James and Kendall James (no relation), linebackers Troy Russell, Troy Eastman and Dennis, and defensive ends Michael Cole and Doug Alston all have significant experience, as does place-kicker Brian Harvey.

Boston College opened Saturday with a 41-32 loss at home to Miami before a crowd of more than 39,000. A member of the Atlantic Coast Conference, which sent eight members to bowl games last season, Boston College is allowed more scholarships (85 to 63) and full-time assistant coaches (10 to 6) than Maine and its Football Championship Subdivision brethren.

“We’re going there to win,” said Dennis, who saw Maine give Pittsburgh a scare last September before falling 35-29 before 41,000 at Heinz Field. “It’s not just for the experience. If we get out there and we lose big, that’s going to be a real disappointment.”

Maine is 1-9 against bowl-eligible teams, with a 9-7 upset at Mississippi State in 2004 as the lone victory. The last time Maine played Boston College, the Black Bears hung tough before losing 22-0.

Matt King, now an assistant strength and conditioning coach at his alma mater, set the tone of that game by sacking Matt Ryan on the first play from scrimmage and forcing a fumble that Ryan, now with the Atlanta Falcons, recovered.

“I’ve told the guys, it’s going to be a battle,” King said. “You have to be able to play a full game, and you have to have a couple of balls bounce your way.”

NOTES: Saturday’s game will be the 1,000th in the history of the UMaine program. The Black Bears have an overall record of 493-468 with 38 ties for a 51.2 winning percentage. … This marks the ninth consecutive season the Black Bears have faced a Football Bowl Subdivision opponent. In a deal negotiated by the schools’ athletic directors, Maine will receive $350,000 from Boston College for the game.

Staff Writer Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at:

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