ORONO — Randy Samuels believes in tradition.

Before the senior linebacker takes the field for the Maine football team, he listens to the same two songs – an R&B number to calm him down and release the jitters, then some 50 Cent to get pumped up for an afternoon of sideline-to-sideline havoc.

He’ll follow that formula again Saturday when the Black Bears (2-4, 2-1 Colonial Athletic Association) host Stony Brook (2-3, 1-3) in the most crucial game of the season.

“You’ve got to want to win. I learned that from the seniors in 2011,” Samuels said. “I take traditions seriously in this program. I have a lot of Black Bear pride. I try to carry it down to this younger generation.

“Things like, don’t step on the ‘M’ in the locker room, don’t be late to meetings, make sure you know the ‘Stein Song.’ ”

It’s been a remarkable transition for Samuels, a native of the Bronx who came to Maine from the Berkshire School in Massachusetts.

He was a star basketball player, but at just 6 feet, felt he was too short to play on the wing in college.

Football may have been his future but he never gave up on his love for his first sport.

Maine Coach Jack Cosgrove sensed that football wasn’t always the top priority for Samuels.

“I’ve seen him sitting in here when I wasn’t sure it was all that important to him,” Cosgrove said Tuesday in his office. “Now I know it’s important to him.”

For the first time, Samuels spent the summer working out in Orono with his teammates. He added 20 pounds, up to 220 now, to tangle with bigger blockers in the box. As a junior he was moved to the weak-side linebacker position, whose primary responsibility is run support, but said he felt overmatched at times. He’s become so adept at shedding blockers and dropping ball carriers that he’s even played middle linebacker at times this season.

His efforts have been noticed. In each of Maine’s past two games, Samuels was voted the team’s defensive captain. In Saturday’s loss against Yale, he had the best game of his career, with 15 tackles. He has a team-leading 43 this season, with two interceptions.

“It’s my last year. I’m not holding it back. I’m playing like every snap is my last,” Samuels said. “When I hit somebody, I’m going to give it all I’ve got.”

Samuels is so comfortable as a leader that he even called his teammates out after the 21-10 home loss to Yale, saying the Bulldogs simply “out-toughed” the Black Bears.

Cosgrove said he understood where Samuels came from.

Defensive end Michael Kozlakowski, a fellow senior, did as well. There is an urgency to win when you see the end of your college career coming, he said.

“The clock is ticking,” said Kozlakowski, who lost two seasons to injury but has had his appeal for an extra year of eligibility denied, pending an appeal. “You train all year round and then the next thing you know, in the blink of an eye, the season is going.

“The wins have to start coming if we want to see any success after the regular season.”

For Kozlakowski, who has 31/2 sacks this season, Saturday’s game has extra meaning. He grew up on Long Island and considered going to Stony Brook once his dream of playing at Hofstra died when that school dropped football.

Kozlakowski played against two current Seawolves – running back Tyler Fredericks and guard Karim Mohamed – in a high school championship game. Kozlakowski’s Lynbrook team beat Lawrence when he was a senior.

“It’s cool seeing them, but at the same time I want to show them that I’m right here and ready to play,” Kozlakowski said.

Maine is tied for fourth in the league so the postseason isn’t out of reach. But the Black Bears can’t afford another conference loss.

The seniors understand the pressure. Kozlakowski sees it in Samuels this year.

“He just has a look in his eye, like he’s ready to play every single day,” Kozlakowski said.


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