Jordan Stevens speaks during a media conference formally introducing him as the new University of Maine head football coach on Thursday in Orono. Ronnie Gillis photo/Courtesy of University of Maine athletics

ORONO — Michael Gerace, a captain of the University of Maine football team, knew exactly what he and many of his teammates wanted in a new head coach. So when Director of Athletics Ken Ralph asked Gerace for his input as Ralph began the search to replace former head coach Nick Charlton, Gerace spoke his mind.

“We wanted a coach who wanted to be here. We didn’t want a coach who just wants a job,” Gerace said.

On Tuesday, Temple native and Mt. Blue High School graduate Jordan Stevens was named head football coach at Maine. A former Black Bear captain, Stevens was selected to the third team all-Colonial Athletic Association squad as a defensive end in 2009. When current players learned their new coach was one of them, a lot of then looked up what they could find of Stevens’ playing career.

“When he was here, he was a big-time player,” Gerace said.

In formally introducing Stevens, 34, as head coach on Thursday, Ralph said he was told by players he spoke with that they wanted to be sure their new coach was every bit as invested as being a Black Bear as they are. In Stevens, they think that’s exactly what they got.

Like Gerace, senior defensive lineman Josh Lezin was impressed with Stevens when he met with the team Wednesday night. Lezin watched a highlight video of Stevens making a sack, and is excited to learn from his new coach.

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“That really gave me a lot of hope, you know what I mean? To have a coach who played defense here,” said Lezin. “He played D end. I play D tackle, so we’re not that different.”

With a lot on his plate, including building a coaching staff and recruiting, Stevens said his first priority is getting to know his team. Stevens met with the Black Bears for the first time Wednesday night. In the coming days, Stevens will meet with each player individually.

That’s where he plans to listen to their questions and concerns, he said.

“(Wednesday’s meeting) was really a time for me to introduce myself. I really explained to them there’s a trust that’s going to be built. I don’t expect them to have complete trust in me right away. I expect them to be curious, excited, as I am to meet them, and continue to build what I think can be a tremendous team here,” Stevens said. “This is going to be a special opportunity for these players to be a part of this program, and they’re going to feel that. I want to know who they are as people. I’m invested in them as people.

“I have a great perspective for what it’s like to be here, what it’s like to be an athlete here. I can see the path they can take to going to play at the next level, because I’ve had teammates who’ve done it. I know what it’s like to go to class here, manage going to practice.”

For seniors like Lezin and Gerace, Stevens is their third head coach. Their freshmen season, 2018, was Joe Harasymiak’s third and final year as head coach before leaving to be a defensive assistant at the University of Minnesota. Charlton was head coach the last three seasons, including the abbreviated four-game spring season this year, played in lieu of a fall 2020 season canceled because of the pandemic. He resigned last week to become offensive coordinator and assistant head coach at the University of Connecticut.

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“You commit to the school. You don’t commit to the coach,” Gerace said.

“We were looking for a coach that was going to be dedicated to the University of Maine,” Lezin said.

In building the coaching staff, Stevens said he will definitely consider retaining members of Charlton’s staff. Most are on the recruiting trail, and Stevens said he’ll start meeting with them when they return over the next few days.

“I’m excited about a lot of those guys. They’ve done great things here and had a lot of success here,” Stevens said.

Classes for the semester end on Friday, with final exams next week. That doesn’t give Stevens much time to get to know his players before they scatter and go home for the holiday break.

Gerace and Lezin said he made it clear when they return to campus in January for the spring semester that prep for the 2022 season will begin.

“We want them to be leaders on this campus. We want them to be leaders in their community when they leave here. We want them to feel like they are better off for having played football at the University of Maine,” Stevens said.

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