ORONO — Dan Collins is getting his first chance to start a football game. Malik Stokes may be getting his last.

When the University of Maine hosts Norfolk State at 6 p.m. Saturday in the season opener, the two men under center will also be under scrutiny. And likely under intense pressure from a pair of rugged defenses.

Collins is the redshirt sophomore who won the Black Bears’ starting job Thursday after four weeks of training-camp competition with true freshman Drew Belcher. He is eager to prove he deserves the leading role and is intent on hanging onto it.

“I’ll be nervous before the first snap. After that first snap it will be like any other game I’ve played in since I was 5,” Collins said.

“I’m not going to let my foot off the pedal. I’m just going to keep driving and show these guys what I can do.”

Stokes is a junior who transferred to Norfolk State from Bowling Green and had a bumpy debut season last fall for the Spartans, who used four starting quarterbacks.


He came on in relief in a season-opening 23-6 loss to Maine, completing just 10 of 29 passes, although one was for a 34-yard touchdown. But he had only one more TD pass the rest of the year.

He’s starting Saturday only because Tyler Clark has a hamstring injury. Clark is expected to claim the starting job when healthy. Unless Stokes can change his coaches’ minds.

“It was really musical chairs,” Norfolk State Coach Pete Adrian said of his quarterback shuffling in 2013. “Every time somebody would do something good, the next week they would get hurt. You’re always back to Week 1 and can’t get momentum.”

The Spartans finished 3-9 last year but five losses were by 10 points or fewer. The offense was usually the culprit, averaging just 14 points per game despite a defense that forced 33 turnovers.

Linebacker Lynden Trail, the 6-foot-7 star of that defense, said it grew wearying.

“It wasn’t like anyone came out and smacked us around,” he said. “We just needed our offense to get going. Realistically speaking, we just needed them to step up. And they will. Practice has been a whole lot more intense.”


Norfolk State returns an experienced offensive line. The Spartans will try to run the ball against a Maine defense that is focused on stifling it.

Adrian said Maine caught him by surprise last year with the number of blitzes it used. Joe Harasymiak, who was the defensive backs coach then and is the defensive coordinator now, said that performance set the tone for a 10-3 season for Maine.

“If a team’s going to beat us, we want to make it throwing the ball,” he said. “We’ve got to keep it simple. We’ve got to be great tacklers. And hopefully we can cause some turnovers.”

Collins will lead an inexperienced offense. There are three new starters on the offensive line, a newcomer at tight end and potentially at both wide receiver spots, depending on Damarr Aultman’s health.

Maine Coach Jack Cosgrove has gained confidence in Collins after a shaky performance in his team’s final scrimmage last week.

“I hope to see a smart, disciplined playmaker and somebody that leads the team, plays with poise,” Cosgrove said of Collins. “We expect to see some nervous energy early.”

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