ORONO — Christophe Mulumba Tshimanga has led the Maine football team in tackles and smiles the past two seasons.

So when the junior middle linebacker had to sit out three games with a leg injury, his loss was measured on and off the field. Coach Jack Cosgrove said Mulumba Tshimanga “got a little pouty,” not at all happy to be left behind when the Black Bears traveled to Richmond two weeks ago and got swamped 48-17.

Mulumba Tshimanga watched that loss on TV, in the team’s locker room. That’s where he was the following day when the players returned, pleading his case with Cosgrove to get back on the field.

“It’s way harder” to be sidelined when your team is losing, Mulumba Tshimanga said. “You feel like you want to be out there fighting with them.”

Mulumba Tshimanga got his wish Saturday, after a week of practicing and convincing the coaches he was healthy. He played 12 snaps as Maine (2-3, 2-1 Colonial Athletic Association) bounced back to dominate Albany 39-7. Mulumba Tshimanga was credited with three tackles, a pittance for somebody who led the team with 95 last year. But it felt significant to the player and the team.

“That’s one of our defensive leaders and just getting his intensity on the field was great,” defensive end Trevor Bates said. “He’s an optimistic, positive guy.”

Mulumba Tshimanga was injured on the second defensive series of the season in a loss at Boston College. An Eagles lineman rolled into his leg, making contact with his helmet and causing a high ankle sprain and a painful bone bruise.

Mulumba Tshimanga tried to return two weeks later when the Black Bears hosted Rhode Island, but the mobility wasn’t there. Cosgrove didn’t even give him the option of practicing the next week.

“Sprained ankles, they’re sensitive,” Cosgrove said. “I told him, ‘We’re not going to have a setback again that prolongs this thing.’ I think he was angry with me.

“When you have something taken away from you that you love, it’s hard to be yourself.”

Mulumba Tshimanga had to prove to Cosgrove that he could make cuts without pain, so the two went out onto the field last Tuesday to run some drills. It felt like a tryout, Mulumba Tshimanga joked. But he passed, and the plan is for him to keep seeing increasing playing time the next two Saturdays, when Maine hosts Yale (3-1) and Stony Brook, before he is deemed all the way back.

Mulumba Tshimanga, who had knee surgery during his true freshman season, when he redshirted anyway, said he never doubted he’d be able to play again this fall. Senior John McCabe of Winslow has been starting in his place and doing a solid job.

When Mulumba Tshimanga finally did return to the field, he realized how much he’d missed it.

“I felt excellent. I don’t think I lost a beat,” he said. “At first I was a little out of shape but during the week, just running around in practice, I kind of got it back already.”

Mulumba Tshimanga’s return corresponded with Maine’s best showing. His tackling, leadership and infectious smile were missed.

Mulumba Tshimanga picked up football at age 16 after moving from Africa to Laval, Quebec. Two years later he was off to the Kent School in Connecticut, where his natural skills blossomed and he earned a roster spot at Maine. He’s not sure how he became such a good tackler in a short time.

“You can’t think too much when you tackle,” said Mulumba Tshimanga, who stands 6-foot-1, 240 pounds. “You’ve just got to have that desire to run through somebody.”

Then he beamed and headed back to the locker room to get ready for practice.