Joe Harasymiak said he wasn’t being cocky, the new kid making a bold statement.

No, when he submitted a first-place vote for his University of Maine football team in the Colonial Athletic Association preseason poll, it was meant to show his players that he believes in them.

“You’ve got to believe in yourself,” said Harasymiak, who was named to succeed Jack Cosgrove as the Black Bears’ coach last December. “The goal is to compete. That (vote) was to show confidence in my players. No disrespect was meant to any other teams. That was to tell my guys that we believe in them.”

Maine, coming off a 3-8 season, will open its first training camp under Harasymiak on Saturday. The Black Bears open the season Sept. 1 at Connecticut, a Football Bowl Subdivision team.

Like Harasymiak, Pat Ricard is excited to get on the field.

“I’m looking forward to the development of this team,” said Ricard, a senior defensive tackle from Spencer, Massachusetts. “We have to do better than last year. I’m excited to see what players step up, see how they develop, who battles for positions and who gets the starting spots.”

The most interesting battle – the one everyone will watch – continues to be at quarterback, where senior Dan Collins and junior Drew Belcher shared the position the last two years.

“No matter if it’s Division III, Division I, high school, Pop Warner … your QB has got to play to win in this league,” said Harasymiak. “You look at our team since I’ve been here – 2011, Warren Smith has a great year, we go 9-4 (advancing to the NCAA quarterfinals); 2013, Marcus (Wasilewski) has a great year, we’re CAA champions.

“You need that guy to step up. We have a good challenge, had a good battle in the spring. We’re still going through it in August, but we’ve got guys who can get it done.”

Collins was injured two years ago in the sixth game, giving Belcher the opportunity to start five games. Last year Collins started seven games and appeared in two others, throwing for 1,542 yards and six touchdowns, completing 49.5 percent of his passes. Belcher started four games and appeared in five others, throwing for 728 yards, four TDs and completing 65 percent of his passes.

Redshirt freshman Jack Walsh is also in the mix as new offensive coordinator Liam Coen brings in a spread offense, which promises a more wide-open attack.

A successful quarterback will help bring balance to a team that has relied heavily on defense – Harasymiak was the coordinator – the last two years. The Black Bears gave up only 21.5 points per game – and just 316.8 yards, third in the CAA – a year ago, but scored only 14.9.

Ricard, who led the CAA in tackles for a loss last year (16.5), hopes that Harasymiak’s promotion, Coen’s arrival and a new offensive scheme pump some life into the offense.

“We have a new coordinator, new positions coaches, they all love football,” he said. “To see them in the spring game, I was very impressed. The offense was so new, so explosive.”

Quarterback is not the only position worth watching. Much like their head coach, who at 30 is the youngest head football coach in Division I, the Black Bears will be young. Maine has only eight seniors. Forty-three letter winners return, 17 of whom started at least five games.

“The good thing is that a lot of those sophomores, or redshirt freshmen, or even redshirt juniors, have played,” said Harasymiak. “I know we weren’t very good the last two years but they’ve played. And any time that happens, it’s a positive.

“So those guys who have played in CAA games, they need to take it to the next level because they’re going to have that opportunity.”

Start with the defensive backs. There’s not a senior among them. But junior Najee Goode (33 tackles, one interception), junior Jason Matovu (44 tackles, two pass breakups), sophomore Sinmisola Demurer (34 tackles), junior Tayvon Hall (19 tackles), junior A.J. Dawson (24 tackles) and sophomore Jeffrey DeVaughn (15 tackles, two interceptions) all return. Junior safety Darius Hart, lost in the first game of the season last year to an injury, is also back. He played in eight games as a freshman two years ago and is considered a key to the secondary.

At wide receiver, senior Jordan Dunn and sophomore Micah Wright form one of the most dangerous tandems in the CAA. Wright caught 61 passes for 818 yards and five touchdowns. Dunn caught 56 for 595 and three TDs. They’ll be joined by a group of young receivers that Harasymiak feels can be special.

The offensive line returns four starters, minus center Bruce Johnson, who graduated and signed as a free agent with the Philadelphia Eagles. All four are underclassmen. The defensive line graduated two players, including end Trevor Bates, who was drafted by the Indianapolis Colts. But the Black Bears are still strong there with Ricard and senior Darius Green.

Special teams also will be a Harasymiak focus. The Black Bears need to replace kicker Sean Decloux, who was 11 of 18 in field goals last year.

“We need to find consistency in that position,” said Harasymiak. “That is a very important position. Kickoffs killed us at times last year. We have to make it a field position game.”


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: