University of New England football coach Mike Lichten talks with his team during Media Day in late August. Lichten is happy with how much his team has progressed during its first season. PAT McDONALD/Journal Tribune

University of New England football coach Mike Lichten talks with his team during Media Day in late August. Lichten is happy with how much his team has progressed during its first season. PAT McDONALD/Journal Tribune

BIDDEFORD — The first year of the University of New England’s football program has been about two things for head coach Mike Lichten — developing players and getting his team prepared for the Division III level.

The Nor’easters are playing a year at the pre-varsity level and through their first five games they have a 2-3 record against other Division III programs’ junior varsity teams.

Lichten has seen a ton of progress from when his squad opened training camp back in August.

“We’ve had some guys that have grown in leaps and bounds, and kind of pushed themselves to new heights, and stepped out of their comfort zone a little bit which is important for this level,” said Lichten. “They are all kind of learning about the game speed, the size, how technical it is, and picking up our scheme. It’s always a growing process, but from where we were day one to where we are now, it’s quite different.”

Lichten’s squad has played different types of junior varsity teams so far this season as some teams have true JV programs and others basically play their non-starters and younger players against UNE.

“It depends on the program. Some of the schools that we played early, Curry, Husson, they kind of have a separate JV program because there is no cap on their roster size,” said Lichten. “Bates and Tufts are a little different, they are capped by (their league) at 75 kids. They are playing the younger part of their rosters and they are all heavily recruited kids, top to bottom, so it makes a difference, but it’s a good experience for our players. You’ve got to learn to rise to the level of your competition.”

Bigger, faster, stronger

One thing that will be key for the Nor’easters between now and next season when they enter Division III play will be their strength and conditioning program.

Unlike more established programs, UNE had 53 freshmen on its roster this season with just 15 upperclassmen — which means most of the Nor’easters had never gone through a full season of college-level weight lifting and conditioning.

“I think it’s really important to remember that six months ago these guys were in high school, walking around, playing spring sports or whatever,” Lichten said. “I’m a big believer that games and seasons are determined not in September or October and November, but rather February, March and April when you put in that time, and create bonds with your teammates and really supplement your athletic ability in that (weight) room and the way you eat and the way you train.”

Lichten is excited to see how much progress his team will make through the rest of this school year and over the offseason.

“It’s almost a shame that football is in the fall because they come in right away without any prep work as freshman. It’s something they learn how to do over the offseason with us and our strength coach, so I’m looking forward to seeing their gains and their investment in that area,” said Lichten.

STUDENT-athlete

Another adjustment this young UNE squad has had to deal with this season is handling both school and football — which sometimes can be overwhelming for freshman student-athletes.

“We’ve put a premium on academic performance here and we’re going to continue to do that. We expect our guys to really take it serious that they are a student-athlete and student being the primary word there,” said Lichten. “There have been some really bright spots and some guys who have really been excited about their (academics) … and then of course there are guys who need to be refocused once in a while, but it’s our job that they have their priorities right and continue to push them in that area.”

‘Delicate balance’

While coach Lichten is focused on developing each and every player on his roster, he also knows that this team wants to win games this season.

There is a group of players who are getting a chance to lead the team — led by quarterback Brian Peters, who has thrown for nearly 700 yards through the first five games. Peters is a freshman from Darien, Connecticut. Another name that has popped up a lot through the first five games has been former Biddeford standout Austin Dutremble, who has caught two touchdown passes so far this season.

“We have a group that takes a primary role in each game, but it’s impossible to develop without getting some burn and we’re trying to remember that every day,” said Lichten. “We want these guys to be successful, so in order to do that you have to set them up the right way. We are also really focused on competing and trying to compete at the highest level so it’s a delicate balance but we’re doing a good job with it.”

On the defensive side of the ball, players like Nick Scarfo, D’Andre James, Mitchell Hennings, Joe Klucky and Ronnie Mwai have racked up tackles through the first five weeks.

Several locals have also shown up for UNE on the defensive side of the ball with Biddeford’s Joey Curit, Kennebunk’s Pat Saunders and Wells’ Owen Berry all securing multi-tackle games for the Nor’easters.

Sports Editor Pat McDonald can be reached at [email protected] or at 282-1535 ext. 322. Follow the Journal Tribune Sports Department on Twitter @JournalTsports.


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