Posted by

Rich Kimball Rich Kimball
This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Share

The Sports Edge - A Black Bear football preview

August 30, 2017
Rate this item
(1 Vote)

“Belief in each other.”

University of Maine football coach Joe Harasymiak calls that a fundamental component of his program and as “Coach H” gets ready to kick off his second year as Black Bear boss, he and his staff believe they’re prepared to make continued progress this season after doubling the team’s win total last year.

As with any college program, there are always shoes to fill - and the Bears have some big ones to replace after the graduation of starting quarterback Danny Collins, and defensive standouts Darius Greene, Pat Ricard and Christophe Malumba Tschimanga. Three of those four are continuing their careers in the pro ranks, with Ricard poised to be a rare two-way player for the Baltimore Ravens and Malumba Tschimanga and Collins wearing CFL uniforms.

At quarterback, Harasymiak and offensive coordinator Liam Coen have cast their lot with a redshirt freshman, Chris Ferguson, a 6’4”, 220-pound product of LaSalle Academy in Pennsylvania. Ferguson worked this summer with the legendary Tom House, the QB guru who has also tutored guys like Tom Brady and Drew Brees. Ferguson ought to feel pretty comfortable behind a veteran offensive line, led by All-American Jamil Demby, and he has a plethora of weapons at his disposal.

Maine returns sophomore running back Joshua Mack of Rochester, New York, who took the CAA by storm last season, rushing for 712 yards and six touchdowns. He’s joined in the backfield by veterans Nigel Beckford and Darian Davis-Ray, as well as true freshman Ramon Jefferson, a flashy back from Bronx, New York.

The Bears’ receiver corps might be one of the deepest in the league, especially if Micah Wright returns from suspension. Wright hauled in 44 passes for 688 yards and seven touchdowns last year in just nine games and he’s joined by “Electric Earnest” Edwards, who averaged nearly 17 yards per reception in his freshman year and has the ability to take it to the house every time he touches the ball. Maine also will see the return of Jaleel Reed, who had 19 receptions last year before getting hurt, and the talented Marquise Adams and Jaquan Blair. As if that’s not enough, speedy Benjamin Davis has converted to wideout from linebacker and former Foxcroft Academy standout Hunter Smith is healthy and ready to contribute and at tight end. Plus, Jason Simon is back and joined by Wake Forest transfer Brenden O’Neil and converted quarterback Drew Belcher.

On defense, Maine will turn to 6’3” sophomore Kayon Whitaker and 6’1” classmate Charles Mitchell to replace the aforementioned Greene and Ricard. The Bears also are hoping for a solid year from Thornton Academy grad Dakota Tarbox and Schuyler Huntington to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

At linebacker, 6’2” junior Sterling Sheffield promises to be one of the best in the conference; the staff is also hopeful that Taji Lowe and redshirt freshman Jaron Grayer are ready to step up, though the Bears will certainly miss the presence of Malumba Tschimanga.

Maine’s secondary is arguably the strength of the defense and one of the best the Bears have ever assembled. With Arizona State transfer DeAndre Scott, the sensational Manny Patterson - who started last season as a true freshman - and veterans Najee Goode and Darrius Hart, there is a wealth of speed and cover ability. Expect the Black Bear defensive backs to be among the league leaders in pass break-ups as well as interceptions.

Finally, one of the team’s most glaring weaknesses from last year has been addressed, as the team gave a scholarship to highly-touted kicker Kenny Doak. The Perkasie, Pennsylvania native has been impressive throughout preseason and is expected to improve greatly on last season’s 1-7 success rate at kicking field goals. Sophomore Derek Deoul will handle the punting chores and is showing the strong leg that made him a sought-after prospect out of Washingtonville (New York) High School.

For Maine to improve on last year’s 6-5 mark and make a run at the FCS 24-team playoff field, they’ll need a strong start, because the early season schedule is a killer.

The Bears open at arch-rival New Hampshire, the team that boasts the nation’s longest streak of playoff appearances (and knocked Maine out of post-season contention a year ago). After a home game with non-conference opponent Bryant, it’s a bye week, followed by one of the toughest three-game stretches in team history, with road contests at defending national champion James Madison University, FBS opponent Central Florida and perennial playoff team Villanova. We’ll likely know by the end of that ‘Nova game if the Black Bears are contenders for a playoff bid.

Maine also plays at Portland for the first time in years, hosting a crucial conference game with Delaware in early November, the week before they take on another FBS team; they face the UMass Minutemen at Fenway Park in Boston.

As we see year after year, the margin of error in the CAA is incredibly small. Last season, all six of Maine’s wins were by seven points or less and the goal this year is to make sure that this team has learned how to win those close ones. If they’re able to make that happen, the season may well extend past the Stony Brook showdown on November 18 and see the Black Bears return to the playoffs for the first time since 2013.

Related items (by tag)

back to top