Head Coach Nick Charlton and the University of Maine football team will play their first game in 15 months on Saturday, the first of a six-game Colonial Athletic Association spring season. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

On Saturday, the University of Maine will play a football game for the first time in 469 days.

After having the 2020 fall season canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Black Bears will open their six-game Colonial Athletic Association spring schedule at Delaware at noon Saturday. It will be the first game for both teams since Nov. 23, 2019.

“It’s been a long wait for a lot of different reasons and especially from about a year ago at this time to where we are right now,” said Sean McDonnell, the New Hampshire head coach who missed all of the 2019 season for health reasons. “Between all the peaks and valleys and ups and downs we’ve had, we’re getting to do something we love”

McDonnell was speaking on a CAA Zoom conference call, which featured the head coaches of all the teams. Each spoke of the excitement of looking forward to finally playing a game. Only James Madison (2-0) and Elon (1-1) have played non-conference games so far.

But they also noted that this is a season unlike any other. Stands will be empty. Players are tested for the virus regularly. And the pandemic has forced the football coaches to reinvent their practice schedules and preparation for the last several months – sometimes on a day-to-day basis.

Delaware Coach Danny Rocco noted that he has changed his depth chart three times in the last five days. With the team undergoing COVID-19 testing on Monday, he added, “We’ll see how things play out.”


As Albany’s Greg Gattuso said, “There is no precedent for this.”

Maine’s Nick Charlton, who went 6-6 in his first year as Black Bears head coach in 2019, said he felt like the teams were “a week short in terms of a lot of things.” They’ve had to find time to fit situational play and special teams into practices because COVID-19 safety protocols dictate exactly how many players can be involved at once.

Villanova’s Mark Ferrante noted that, unlike a typical preseason that starts in August before classes have started, the players are in class now. Their time is devoted not only to football but also to academics.

“We’re still virtual in meetings,” he said. “It’s been interesting and it’s been challenging, and the guys are excited and enthusiastic about getting back on the field in a competitive situation.”

And that’s really what this week is about: a return to competition.

Delaware’s Rocco said the Blue Hens held a dress rehearsal last week for the game. It didn’t include many plays, but instead focused on the protocols and getting the players acclimated to what is expected from them – things that they never had to focus on before.


But, he added, “For all the things that are different this season when it comes to COVID and the protocols, the things that will remain the same are the things you have to do on the field in order to win.”

That’s why, despite playing only six games, Charlton said, “We’re not looking at it any differently than we would any other regular season.”

But because it is different – playing games that count in March and April instead of holding spring practices – coaches will have the opportunity to experiment a bit, especially in personnel. As Rocco said, “There are no true freshmen in any program right now.”

Freshmen have been through fall practices and they’ve been through this unusual spring preseason. They have received repetitions in practice that they might not have received before.

“I think we have the opportunity to play more players and see what they can do,” said UNH’s McDonnell.

In speaking about the Black Bears, Charlton mentioned several freshmen: backup quarterback Derek Robertson, and running backs Freddie Brock and Tavion Banks. He noted that Brock and Banks, along with redshirt freshman Curtis Murray and redshirt sophomore Elijah Barnwell, have created strong competition at that position.

All the coaches realize the need to develop depth at each position, especially if they lose players to injuries or COVID-19. But the lack of practice time is also forcing coaches to get more players into games.

Elon Coach Tony Triscani was asked what he learned from his team’s first two games.

“I learned you’ve got to play more guys,” he said. “You’ve got to get more guys ready to play and play guys for more snaps. Without the training foundation we’re used to having going into the preseason, you’ve got to be real careful with snap counts with our guys.”

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