As he looked back on the University of Maine’s disappointing football season, Coach Joe Harasymiak did not mince words.

“This is my fault, this year is on me,” he said. “It falls on my shoulders. I’ve got to get better with the staff and the players.”

In Harasymiak’s second season, the Black Bears slipped to a 4-6 overall record, 3-5 in the Colonial Athletic Association. Their season was bookended by one-point losses: 24-23 to New Hampshire on a missed extra point on Aug. 31, and 20-19 to Stony Brook on a 35-yard last-play Hail Mary pass Saturday. New Hampshire and Stony Brook advanced to the NCAA playoffs.

Fourth-quarter collapses, too many penalties, dropped passes and mental errors plagued the Black Bears. Harasymiak said changes will be made in the way the team approaches the offseason because “if we want to take the next step, we need to do things differently … We have to change the way we go about preparing this offseason, stress how important it is to do the little things in this world of instant gratification. Yes, we have talent, but you have to work extremely hard to win in this league.”

In Harasymiak’s two seasons, Maine has gone 10-11 overall, 8-8 in the CAA. Even the players know changes have to be made in the way they prepare.

“It’s not like we don’t have the talent,” said sophomore Josh Mack, who led Football Championship Subdivision running backs with 1,335 rushing yards. “It’s about the mental aspect. We’ve got to learn to play, run the system and learn to play (through) adversity.”


The Black Bears have some exceptional young talent, evidenced by the CAA all-conference honors released Tuesday. Eight Maine players were honored, only two seniors: offensive left tackle Jamil Demby (first team) and offensive right guard/tackle Isaiah Brooks (third team). Mack and sophomore kick returner Earnest Edwards were named to the first team offense; junior specialist Mozai Nelson was named to first-team defense; junior linebacker Sterling Sheffield and sophomore cornerback Manny Patterson were on the second-team defense; sophomore defensive lineman Kayon Whitaker was on to the third-team defense.

Also, Mack is one of the 25 finalists for the Walter Payton Award, given to the FCS offensive player of the year, and redshirt freshman linebacker Jaron Grayer, who led Maine with 79 tackles, was named a finalist for the Jerry Rice Award, given to the FCS freshman of the year.

“I think we’ve got a lot to build on,” said redshirt freshman quarterback Chris Ferguson. “We’ve got a lot of people coming back and a lot of kids who will contribute next year, and then some who will step in. We’re close, obviously.”

Ferguson showed moments of brilliance, completing 54.6 percent of his passes for 2,064 yards, 16 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Whitaker was second in tackles with 65, followed by Sheffield (64), sophomore defensive lineman Charles Mitchell (58) and redshirt freshman linebacker Deshawn Stevens(50).

Maine’s defense should be strong next year. Seven players who started or received significant playing time in Saturday’s finale will return. Maine led the CAA and was fourth in the nation in third-down defense (allowing 27.4 percent) and was 36th in the nation in total defense, allowing 335.1 yards per game.

The biggest concern will be the offensive line, which had four seniors, all starters in the finale. Center Chris Mulvey, a redshirt freshman, and junior tackle Cody Levy will return. Young linemen such as Archie Callahan, Liam Dobson and Samuel Cooper are primed to step in.


Harasymiak said Maine’s recruiting will focus on offensive linemen. “We have some work to do there,” he said. “That’s the most important area to us.”

Maine has 18 scholarships to offer, according to Harasymiak. He and his staff will hit the road next right after Thanksgiving to focus on their top recruits, including those in Maine.

The NCAA has an early signing period this year for football from Dec. 20-22. Harasymiak said it’s unlikely the Black Bears will sign many players that week, but instead will get a good idea what recruits are left for February’s signing period.

“It will be interesting to see how it pans out for small schools like us,” he said.

The players, meanwhile, intend to get right back into training when they return from Thanksgiving break. “Football’s a year-round sport,” said Whitaker. “You can’t get behind. As soon as we’re back, we’re back in the weight room.”

Actually, Mack said he’ll start this weekend: “No days off for me.”


Maine’s schedule next year again will be difficult. The Black Bears will open again against New Hampshire, which has defeated them eight consecutive times, then has three difficult road games – at Football Bowl Subdivision teams Western Kentucky and Central Michigan, then Ivy League champ Yale –before finishing with seven CAA games.

Playing two FBS games a year makes winning CAA games that much more important for the Black Bears. “It forces us to go 6-2 in the league, or 5-3 and be on the bubble,” said Harasymiak.

But those FBS games bring in much-needed money: $300,000 from Western Kentucky and $400,000 from Central Michigan. So Maine’s schedule will continue to feature them.

“That’s why we need to start now,” said Sheffield. “It’s not time to start in January or February. Great teams know how to prepare when the game is far away. This offseason – we understand how hard the schedule is. And in order for us to do well, and win the (CAA) championship and go to the playoffs, we know we need to handle those teams first.”

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