BIDDEFORD — Ask Dakota Joy about the football highlight of his fall and he hesitates.

The 2017 graduate of Scarborough High is justifiably proud of seeing his former Red Storm teammates win a state championship last weekend.

But he’s also excited to still be playing football. Joy played left tackle for the nascent University of New England program this fall.

“It was great to finally see Scarborough win a Class A state championship, but it’s also cool that UNE is starting a new program,” Joy said earlier this week. “All around, football has been pretty good for me.”

After one season of sub-varsity play, Joy and his UNE teammates are preparing to join the Commonwealth Coast Conference next August as a full-fledged varsity football operation.

The Nor’easters earned the first victory in school history in September, beating Norwich University’s junior varsity 30-23 in Northfield, Vermont. UNE went 2-3 against collegiate JV squads – the other victory was 28-27 over Bates – and 0-3 against prep schools this fall.

They did so with a roster of 71 that relied heavily on freshmen. Attrition has dropped the UNE roster to 59 – 45 of them in their first year of college.

“We need to become bigger, stronger and faster in the offseason to try to make up for the age discrepancy we’re going to be playing against,” said Joey Curit, a 2017 Biddeford High grad who plays safety for UNE. “I was a little bit surprised by how good a lot of the teams we played were.”

“It was much more fast-paced,” Joy said. “Everything came at you a little quicker. But overall it’s just football. You enjoy the grind.”

Joy and Curit are two of the 10 homegrown players in the program. Just as many hail from New Hampshire and 15 are from Massachusetts. Coach Mike Lichten and his staff of seven will meet Monday and fan out across the region – and the nation – beginning Tuesday as part of their continued recruiting efforts.

“This year was a little different,” said Lichten, who came to Biddeford in February 2016 after five years as head coach of Becker College, a Division III school in central Massachusetts. “We didn’t cut but at the same time, we held everybody to a certain standard. We had a group that really did a strong job of establishing what our standards are going to be, so that this next group that comes in understands what’s going to be asked of them.”

By the time players report to training camp in August, renovations to the Harold Alfond Forum will result in new locker rooms, an expanded weight and fitness facility, and a new surface for the Big Blue Turf field.

“We have 100 lockers waiting for us down there,” Lichten said, “and we’re going to fill them all.”

Lichten and his players are quick to point out that football is but one of many programs to benefit from the expansion. Both Curit and Joy joined teammates at field hockey, volleyball and soccer games this fall to support their fellow UNE athletes.

The Nor’easters played all eight games this fall away from campus, including one in late October at Portland’s Fitzpatrick Stadium against Kirkland Academy, a prep school from New Jersey. Kirkland won 26-14, but UNE celebrated Alumni Weekend before a crowd of about 1,000 fans, Lichten said, including graduates of St. Francis College, which merged with the New England College of Osteopathic Medicine to become UNE in 1978.

“There was a banner on the stands that was done up saying ‘Your Graduate and Alumni Groups Support You,’ ” Lichten said. “That was a very enlightening moment for me. It was very exciting to see that.”

The Nor’easters open the 2018 season at Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut, before hosting Husson in early September for the first home game in Biddeford.

“Playing every game on the road, that’s a challenge no matter what,” Lichten said. “I don’t care if we’ve been here for 50 years or five minutes. We’re very much looking forward to being the 250th (football) NCAA team in the country and hosting five games here, and competing in front of our people.”

For now, however, there are barbells to lift, prospective teammates to host and a culture to build. Spring football is on the horizon.

“Coach Lichten always says we have the opportunity to make something special,” Joy said, “and it’s up to us to make it special. We get to build our own legacy.”

Since arriving on campus 21 months ago, Lichten still hasn’t taken a vacation. That should change in June when he plans to marry his fiancee, although he couldn’t promise that game film would be absent from their honeymoon.

“It’s all online now,” he said, “so it’s coming with us whether she likes it or not.”

As for next fall’s expectations, Lichten prefers to focus on development rather than wins and losses. The goal is to build a championship program.

“That’s a day-by-day process,” he said. “It’s not going to happen overnight but it’s also not something that we’re going to wait around and hope happens for us. We’re going to go make it happen.”

Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or

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