Senior Michael Gerace has played several positions on the University of Maine’s offensive line, including 16 career starts at center, nine at right guard and five at left guard. Seth Poplaski/Courtesy of UMaine athletics

Like so many of the other athletes who arrive in Orono to play for the University of Maine football team, Michael Gerace wasn’t the most highly recruited high school football player.

But the Black Bears coaching staff saw something in him, something that they thought they could tap into.

Michael Gerace

And Gerace, who goes 6-foot-4 and 285 pounds, has lived up to their hopes.

Now entrenched as the center, Gerace has played at least one game at every position on the offensive line since his freshman year. He is a team captain this year and the leader of an improving offensive line.

“He’s got all the intangibles and he’s incredibly self driven,” said Pat Denecke, UMaine’s assistant head coach and offensive line coach. “He wants to be great. We knew that when we recruited him. He does a great job taking care of himself and he works so hard. There were multiple times when I went to see him that we met in gym, because I knew that’s where he would be, working out.

“He’s an extremely intelligent kid. He picked up our offense fast and since he’s been in the same system the last four years, it’s like having another coach out there.”

Maine (3-4 overall, 2-3 in the Colonial Athletic Association) plays at Rhode Island (5-2, 3-2) at 1 p.m. Saturday, looking for its third consecutive win.

Gerace attended John Carroll High School in Bel Air, Maryland, when he signed with the Black Bears in 2018. He arrived in Orono hoping to make a contribution as a freshman but never expected to have such an accelerated career.

In the first days after his arrival, Denecke had him snapping the ball at center – a position Gerace had never played in his life. In the 2018 season opener against New Hampshire, starting center Chris Mulvey was injured and Gerace stepped in. The next week, he got his first college start, against Western Kentucky, an FBS opponent. Maine won that game, 31-28.

He ended up starting eight of Maine’s 12 games that year, helping the Black Bears advance to the FCS national semifinals.

“It all comes down to preparation,” said Gerace. “You’re out of high school, 18 years old and there are plenty of guys who want to play too. If you want to start, you’ll have every opportunity to, but you have to come in ready to play, physically and mentally.

“I had never snapped a ball in my life. But in the first couple of days, they put me at center. I eventually moved up to No. 2 behind Chris. And once he got hurt, the opportunity was there and I had to run with it.”

Denecke said there was no hesitation to move Gerace to center.

“We knew he was smart, we knew he could pick up the offense,” said Denecke. “We tried a bunch of different guys at center. He seemed most natural. We moved him around a lot, and he also seemed he could handle things, so we kept giving him more and more.”

Gerace, who has a double major in accounting and finance with a minor in economics, played center and left guard his freshman year in 2018. The next year he played center, right guard and both tackles. He was moved permanently to center for the 2021 spring season and has 16 career starts there.

Each position requires a certain skillset and, Gerace said, moving to different positions during a game can “cause your head to spin.”

“All the footwork is different,” he said. “The calls are different for each position. The center puts everyone in the right call but every position has calls to make. It’s about understand basic offense and basic rules, which way you have to step, which gap to protect, which linebacker you have to go to.”

Maine head coach Nick Charlton said Gerace is having an outstanding year. Maine has allowed only 10 sacks, third in the Colonial Athletic Association and went three consecutive games without giving up any before Albany got three last week. The running game has also improved as the season has progressed, having its three best games of the season in the past five weeks.

“He’s a very intelligent person and football player,” said Charlton. “It’s challenging, especially at his position. Quarterback and offensive line are the two hardest positions to learn in college. On the line, when you’re on the edge there’s pass protection, inside you’re pulling, the center has to make all the calls.

“He’s done a nice job with all of that. He’s just really stepped up this year and taken on a big leadership role.”


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