ORONO — Dakota Tarbox leaped to grab a pass and rumbled toward the end zone at Alfond Stadium.

It was just what he imagined doing when he signed on at Maine after starring at Thornton Academy.

But Tarbox was wearing the blue jersey of the defensive team in Saturday’s first scrimmage of the spring. The dreams of being a tight end are in the past.

“I fit in a little bit better with the defense. I had a little bit more of an aggressive attitude. I was a little too ‘on my toes’ on the offense, if you know what I mean. I was a little too all over the place,” Tarbox said.

“Defense is more my cup of tea. Pin your ears back and go play hard.”

Tarbox started at defensive end Saturday in place of the injured Trevor Bates. Early in the scrimmage he dropped into coverage and intercepted a Dan Collins throw, taking it up the near sideline to the 10-yard line before Collins brought him down.

“I’ll get in next time,” Tarbox said. “I can’t let a quarterback catch me.”

Tarbox later leaped to bat a pass down, nearly corralling a second interception, and was one of the surprise stars of the morning.

The redshirt sophomore will cede his position at “stud” defensive end when Bates returns in August, but his performance encouraged his coaches and teammates.

“He had a nose for the ball today,” said Bates, the Westbrook native who had shoulder surgery, has been mentoring Tarbox. “It was a great read on that second play. He had to slam down with the tight end. He read play-action, he saw it and just climbed the quarterback. I think he’s definitely going to help us out in the season. It’s kind of a blessing, too, that I’m out because they get all these extra reps to kind of help them move forward and get better.”

Tarbox redshirted as a freshman and was still a tight end when spring practice began last April.

In the summer, Coach Jack Cosgrove and his staff decided to shift him across the line. He played primarily on special teams last fall.

“Honestly, he just had a hard time with the mental part of the offense,” Cosgrove said. “I’m proud of that kid and where he’s at right now because he was a handful his first year here. He and I have had some moments together. To see where he is at right now is very, very pleasing to me and I hope encouraging to him.

“He’s a much better person than he was when he got here. Not to say he was a bad person. Let’s just say he was a hellion in a way, and now this has become important to him, so he’s doing the things that create the opportunity that he had today. And when he gets an opportunity and he responds, that makes you feel good.”

Tarbox is extremely athletic at 6-foot-4 and 240 pounds. But he knows he needs to get bigger – he wants to add 10 pounds this summer – and to learn the footwork and technique of his new position.

He played some standup defensive end and linebacker at Thornton Academy, but doing so in college is a much greater challenge.

“It’s a chance for me to get on the field, a chance to help out the team,” Tarbox said.

“I like the intensity and the aggressiveness of it. You’ve got to have a motor to play defense.”