ORONO — Joe Harasymiak has a lot on his mind these days.

The second-year coach of the University of Maine’s football team is prepping his team for a season opener just 23 days away against its biggest rival, New Hampshire. He’s trying to determine, yet again, who will start at quarterback. He needs to find a place-kicker who, well, won’t miss. He’s looking to replace almost the entire middle of his defensive front.

And he’s doing it all not knowing if he’ll have three of his best players available for the opener – or beyond.

Wide receiver Micah Wright, running back Darian Davis-Ray and defensive lineman Uchenna Egwuonwu last week were “interimly suspended” from the university and the team “for alleged violations of the UMaine student code of conduct,” according to a release from the school.

The investigation into a complaint by a UMaine student is being conducted by the Student Conduct Office in the Division of Student Life. No one knows how long the investigation will take. The three are still enrolled at UMaine for the fall semester and on the Black Bears’ roster. For how long, no one knows.

This is easily the biggest challenge Harasymiak, who can’t comment on the investigation, has faced as a head coach. It’s hard enough to prepare a team, and determine starters, with everyone available. Without three of your best players?

“The one thing, and I’ve never been in this situation, is that I’ve tried to treat it as an injury almost,” said Harasymiak after Monday’s first preseason scrimmage. “Guys are down and we have to have guys step up. Hopefully it pays dividends when these guys hopefully come back and we’ve got a lot of quality reps that some guys might not have gotten.

“That’s how we’re treating it.”

Harasymiak addressed the situation, as best he could, at the first team meeting of the season.

“I’m very transparent with the team, I think you need to be like that with these young men,” he said. “I think we’ve done a good job of focusing on the goal, which is UNH. And hopefully those guys will rejoin us. But that’s how we’re dealing with it, like an injury. They’re out right now and we’ve got to battle through with other guys.”

That’s football, right? You move on to the next man.

But suspensions are different.

With an injury, you know when a player will return, or at least could return.

With this suspension, the Black Bears have no idea whether Wright, Davis-Ray or Egwuonwu will be with them. And they are all impact players, make no mistake about that.

Wright is a game-changer at wide receiver (44 catches, 688 yards, seven touchdowns) and punt returner, where he led the Colonial Athletic Association with 11.1 yards per punt returns and a touchdown.

The fact that he is not out there working with quarterbacks Drew Belcher, Max Staver, Chris Ferguson and Isaiah Robinson hinders the offense’s development. Ferguson was the most impressive of the group in Monday’s scrimmage, earning playing time with the first unit after an impressive drive that ended with a TD pass to Jaquan Blair. Robinson, meanwhile, threw two TDs on Monday.

Davis-Ray would have been in the running as the team’s top running back, a complement to sophomore Josh Mack. Egwuonwu, who was presented the coveted No. 9 defensive jersey last spring, loomed as the top defensive lineman. Since 2002, the number has come to signify the toughest player on defense, someone who can be counted on to make the big play, to be a leader. By tradition, the uniform number has been passed down from a senior to an underclassman.

The Black Bears insist they will move on.

“They’re not here and everybody’s got to step up,” said Lian Coen, Maine’s offensive coordinator. “We saw it last year with Earnest (Edwards) and Josh, we’re not afraid to play freshmen. We’re not afraid to play the best 11 at any position.”

Monday’s scrimmage began finding those 11 players. The defense was impressive early on, with interceptions off Staver (by Jason Matovu) and Belcher (returned for a touchdown by freshman Erick Robertson); the offense came on late, with Belcher directing a nice scoring drive.

Football demands that they push on, that the Black Bears find their playmakers and fill their holes. “We have a job to do and my job is to coach this team and get them ready for UNH,” said Harasymiak. “And that’s what I’m going to do no matter who’s with us.”

Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: MikeLowePPH

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