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The Sports Edge #Hunters

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The #Hunters hashtag was adopted not long after Joe Harasymiak was named as the head coach of University of Maine Black Bear football, becoming the youngest Division I coach in the country at age 29. It was clear from day one that the former defensive coordinator was going to bring the aggressive, confident approach that has been a hallmark of the 'Black Hole' defense to the entire team.

One of Harasymiak's first moves was to hire former UMass quarterback Liam Coen as the Bears' offensive coordinator. Coen is a high-energy, passionate coach; he bonded with his players right away and promised them a much more open, freewheeling attack than they had been used to playing. Also promoted from within the staff was Corey Hetherman, who ascended to the defensive coordinator job. Hetherman (who the other coaches will tell you looks a lot like a younger Will Ferrell) has served in that role at Pace University, and knows this defense well expect plenty of room for activities.

Confidence is high as the 2016 season gets underway with a game at FBS opponent Connecticut, but that optimism must be balanced against the reality of an incredibly difficult schedule. Maine is the only FCS (Football Championship Subdivision) team to play two FBS (Bowl Subdivision) opponents; they've also got eight games in the Colonial Athletic Association, one of the top two conferences in the nation.

Despite graduating several key players - including Trevor Bates, now of the Indianapolis Colts - the Black Bear defense should still be quite strong. All-American Pat Ricard led the conference in tackles for a loss last year and is a force to be reckoned with inside, especially with the talented Darius Greene playing next to him.

Maine boasts a solid linebacker corps led by Christophe Malumba-Tshimanga and sophomore Sterling Sheffield, but it may be the secondary that really surprises opponents this year. It's a unit without a senior but boasts plenty of talent and depth, led by the return of Darrius Hart, Najee Goode and Simni Demuren, as well as exciting true freshman Manny Patterson of Baltimore.

Maine's new-look offense will feature multiple sets and involve more playmakers; they'll be led by senior QB Dan Collins, who threw six TD passes last year but seems more comfortable and confident in this new approach. He'll have a plethora of targets starting with sophomore Micah Wright, who caught 61 passes for 618 yards as a freshman, plus the emerging Jared Osumah, Jaquan Blair, Marquise Adams and Lawrence High School's Spencer Carey, who moves over from the defense. Tight ends Jeremy Salmon and Jason Simonovich are both big, strong blockers, who are tough to bring down when they catch the ball. The Bears also have several good options at running back, starting with Nigel Beckford, who rushed for over 500 yards last year, sophomore Joe Fitzpatrick, Temple transfer Zaire Williams, and true freshman sensation Josh Mack of Rochester, N.Y.

As always, special teams will be a big factor, and it's an area where Maine has room for improvement. The kick game was inconsistent last season and the Bears are hoping for steady play from punter James DeMartini and placekicker Derek Deoul. A more productive return game is expected to be led by Arizona State transfer Deandre Scott.

Jack Cosgrove's 23 years at the helm of this program led them to their greatest heights, including three trips to the national quarterfinals. This new Black Bear staff is excited to pick up the baton and lead Maine football to even more success but it may take some time. There are no easy games in the CAA and the early-season schedule is daunting, but I expect this team will be a group no opponent will look forward to playing in 2016 and beyond.


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