ORONO — You could excuse Nick Charlton if he had a hard time falling asleep Monday night.

Tuesday morning he would run his first practice as head coach of the University of Maine football team.

“I was excited,” said Charlton, who was named head coach on Dec. 21, one day after Joe Harasymiak left to become an assistant coach at the University of Minnesota. “I got some sleep. It was enough.”

On a morning where a wind chill of 14 degrees took the spring out of spring football, the Black Bears began a new era at Alfond Stadium. Coming off a 2018 season that saw them go 10-4 and advance to the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision national semifinals, they took the field with a new head coach, new coordinators on offense (Andrew Dresner) and defense (Mike Ryan) and four new assistant coaches.

And it was like nothing changed.

“Yes, there have been changes on the coaching staff,” said linebacker Deshawn Stevens, who led Maine with 120 tackles last year. “But the core that we still have, like Coach Nick and Coach Ryan, they already know the standard here. They may have their own set goals, but already they know how we operate.”

Maine will hold 15 spring practices, including scrimmages on April 13 and 20 and ending with the annual Jeff Cole Memorial Scrimmage on April 26 at 7 p.m.

“For three days a week for the next five weeks we look forward to these three days,” said Dresner, who was Maine’s wide receivers coach last year, “so we can start developing our identity and we can see who’s going to play and where they’re going to play and who our players are going to be and what plays we like to call.”

Regardless of what happened last year, Charlton said, “This team is going to have to develop an identity just like last year and it will be different.”

How different? We’ll see. Chris Ferguson, who will start his third year at quarterback for the Black Bears, said each new coach will bring a new perspective. “New minds, new ideas,” he said. “That’s exciting.”

And that’s what Charlton wants. “We have the things we like to do and ultimately the coordinators and myself make a lot of the decisions,” he said. “But we don’t hire people to just sit there and nod. I want people to have ideas … I don’t want yes men. I want people who have ideas and want to try things. Ultimately you’ve got to make decisions on those things but that’s how you grow, that’s how this place needs to grow.”

Three of the new assistant coaches are on the defensive side. Ryan, who also coaches linebackers, knows there’s work to be done.”Our goal for the spring is to get everything aligned,” he said.

It helps to have eight starters back on defense, along with several experienced reserves. On Tuesday, they made sure people got into position quickly during drills.

The Black Bears know they’re not going to sneak up on anyone this year. They won’t be ranked eighth in any preseason conference polls. They also know they can’t get caught up in outside expectations.

Their own expectations are high enough.

“This is the first step to being great,” said wide receiver Earnest Edwards. “We all want to be great. We don’t want to be average.”

NOTES: Running back Joe Fitzpatrick, of North Yarmouth and Cheverus High, was one of three players who did not participate because of offseason surgery. Fitzpatrick had minor surgery on his right shoulder – “Just something that needed to be cleaned up,” he said – and will be limited throughout spring practice. Given that he’ll be a senior in the fall, he’s not concerned. “Spring ball is huge for the young guys,” he said. “I remember my freshman and sophomore years it was a huge deal. You’re fighting for playing time, you’re fighting for reps so that you can get that experience under your belt as far as the pace of college football.” Offensive lineman Mike Gerace (shoulder) and linebacker Jaron Grayer (knee) will also be limited.

Running back Ramon Jefferson, who last fall became the first freshman to rush for 1,000 yards at Maine, remains absent from the team. Jefferson has pleaded not guilty to charges of domestic violence assault and criminal mischief stemming from a February incident in Bangor. Jefferson is not allowed to participate in athletics activities while his case continues. “The legal proceedings are finishing up so I can’t comment too much,” said Charlton. “We’re obviously monitoring the situation and look forward to hopefully having him back.”

Three players are wearing new numbers, bequeathed to them by graduating seniors. Wide receiver Andre Miller, of Old Town, is wearing No. 10, last worn by Micah Wright; linebacker Taji Lowe is wearing No. 12, given to him by tight end Drew Belcher; linebacker Andrew Stevens  is wearing No. 6, presented to him by Sterling Sheffield. Stevens, however, wore his old number, 47, at practice Tuesday because, he said, Sheffield still had the white No. 6 jersey. Miller, who had a coming-out game in the national semifinals last year when he caught nine passes for 129 yards and a touchdown, was touched that Wright gave him the number. “It means a lot,” he said. “He’s like a mentor and a role model to me.”

Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: MikeLowePPH


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