From the start of training camp, University of Maine football players have spoken about a new energy surrounding the team. And that energy hasn’t dissipated during the heat of August practices.

“It is a challenge as camp goes on,” said Joe Harasymiak, the first-year head coach of the Black Bears. “The kids come to work every day. You begin camp all excited, then you have your first scrimmage. Then there’s a little bit of a lull. Then you have your second scrimmage.

“Now, I think the excitement of the first game is helping. There is an energy around here that is still going.”

Maine opens the 2016 season Thursday evening at the University of Connecticut. The Black Bears are coming off a 3-8 season but have a spirited attitude. And the players directly attribute that to Harasymiak, at 30 the youngest NCAA Division I head coach, and his assistant coaches.

“Coach H brings an amazing energy to the program,” said Jaleel Reed, a junior wide receiver from East Lansdowne, Pennsylvania. “All our coaches are young. And we have fun.”

Josh Mack, a freshman running back from Rochester, New York, said the youth of the staff is what attracted him to Orono.

“They bond with us,” he said. “I love the energy Coach H brings. They really take care of us.”

Reed said their energy is contagious.

“We can walk into their office at 6 in the morning and they’ll be bouncing off the walls,” he said. “It’s hard for you not to want to work hard when your coaches are up that early.”

But energy can only carry a team so far. Maine’s success will come down to who steps up to become playmakers.

Here are four key questions for Maine this fall:

How will the new offense look?

New offensive coordinator Liam Coen has installed a pro-style offense that features multiple formations and has the potential to put up a lot of points. That’s good news, because the Black Bears averaged only 14.9 points last year, tied for ninth in the 12-team Colonial Athletic Association.

Senior quarterback Dan Collins, named the starter last week, has looked very comfortable in the preseason. He has a strong arm and is making good decisions. It appears he has plenty of weapons in receivers Micah Wright (a sophomore who led Maine with 61 catches and 818 receiving yards in 2015), Jordan Dunn (senior, 56 catches last year) and Reed.

The Black Bears averaged only 115.4 yards rushing last year, 10th in the CAA. Junior Nigel Beckford (team-leading 526 yards rushing), transfer Zaire Williams (a junior) and Mack lead a deep group of running backs. They all will be involved in the passing game, as well.

Of course, it all starts with the offensive line, which already has some shifting parts. Left tackle Jamil Demby (junior) is injured and will likely miss the opener. Center Dan Burrows (junior) suffered an ankle injury in the last scrimmage but should be ready.

If the offensive line can keep Collins on his feet and open some holes for the running backs, this could be one of Maine’s most effective offenses since the 2013 team that won the CAA title.

Who’s going to play defensive end?

The position is vital in Maine’s defense. Last year’s starters are gone. Trevor Bates, of Westbrook, and Mike Kozlakowski were among the Black Bears’ top defensive players. Replacing them is critical for a defense that has been the team’s biggest strength the last few seasons.

Several players are competing for playing time at defensive end, including junior Dakota Tarbox of Thornton Academy. Tarbox has played well so far and looks to be the starter on the weak-side – the same position that Bates played. Tarbox is especially strong against the run, which is why sophomore Connor Walsh, a strong pass rusher, will likely come in on passing downs.

The strong-side defensive end will likely be either Alejandro Oregon, a freshman from Brooklyn, New York, or Uchenna Egwuonwu, a sophomore from Union, New Jersey, who normally works inside but has moved recently to end. They’ll both get plenty of snaps early in the season.

How will a young secondary hold up?

Maine’s defense emphasizes pressure on the quarterback – leaving the secondary to face pressure of its own.

The Black Bears ranked 10th in pass defense in the CAA last year, giving up an average of 204.3 yards. They were a young unit last season, but Harasymiak – Maine’s defensive coordinator the last two years – said the experience they gained will be invaluable.

Najee Goode will be at one corner, Tayvon Hall at the other. Both are juniors.

The safety positions are a little less settled, with five players rotating through the two spots to start the season. Jason Matovu is likely to start at strong safety and fellow junior DeAndre Scott appears to be the starting free safety, with sophomores Jeffrey DeVaughn and Sinmisola Demuren getting plenty of reps. Look for junior Darrius Hart, who missed all but one game last year because a knee injury, to play as well.

“Everyone will play at safety,” said Harasymiak. “And then we’ll build from that game.”

How will this team react to adversity?

This is a question Harasymiak posed during a July interview. “Things are not going to be easy,” he said at the time. “Look at how we open up, at Connecticut, then at Toledo, then (James Madison). It’s not going to be an easy stretch for us. There’s going to be some lumps and I want to see how we react.”

And by “we” he means everyone. Players. Coaches.

“We will have some ups and downs,” he said. “But as I’ve told the team, we’ve just got to learn and grow together. We’re learning, literally, every day. Every day I go (into) the office, I learn something.”

This preseason, Harasymiak has learned that his players are competitive. After the defense gave up eight touchdowns in the second scrimmage last Sunday, some of the defensive leaders took it personally.

“The offense really humbled us,” said defensive tackle Pat Ricard, who had 16.5 tackles for a loss last year and is Maine’s top returning defensive player.

Harasymiak said they responded with a couple great practices this past week.

“There’s guys on that side of the ball who know what that (defensive) tradition is,” said Harasymiak. “We should be fine there.”

We’ll find out soon enough.

Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: MikeLowePPH

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