The success of football teams in the Colonial Athletic Association is often directly proportional to the number of seniors on the roster.
This fall, the University of Maine (3-1) is riding the experience of 16 seniors — including 10 fifth-year players and one in his sixth season — as it achieves early-season success.
It is impossible to underestimate the importance of that group’s influence on coach Jack Cosgrove’s team, which is ranked 19th in this week’s Sports Network/Fathead.com poll. UMaine is off to its best start since going 6-0 to open the 2002 campaign.
The seniors have been working toward a common goal for a minimum of four years. During that time they have worked to get bigger, stronger and faster.
The seniors also have learned — sometimes the hard way — what it takes to be successful at the Football Championship Subdivision level.
When all that time, effort and commitment are rolled into one and most players in the group are playing their final season of competitive football, the motivation to go out a winner is magnified. The seniors have bonded at a level that could only be understood by someone who has gone through the experience.
This UMaine team is fortunate to have 11 seniors in the starting lineup and another two as backups on the depth chart. That unit includes quarterback Warren Smith, tailback Pushaun Brown, wideouts Derek Buttles and Derek Session, and tackle Steve Shea of Corinna.
On defense, the Bears rally around senior linebacker Vinson Givans, tackles Raibonne Charles of Windham, Kevin Phanor and Ryan Nani, who arrived at UMaine in 2006. Safeties Jerron McMillian and Trevor Coston also play pivotal roles.
Throw in punter/kicker Jordan Waxman, backup quarterback and holder Chris Treister of Cape Elizabeth and utilityman Roosevelt Boone and the Bears have a formidable foundation.
Remarkably, UMaine is without arguably its top defensive player, senior linebacker Donte Dennis, and talented senior tight end Jeff Falvey, both of whom are sidelined with injuries.
Throw in the Bears’ own “Rudy,” defensive back Gabe Hinds of Augusta, and the character of the group is complete.
Leadership, especially from the seniors, will play a huge role in UMaine’s success during the last eight weeks of the regular season. The tone they set on the practice field, in the weight room, in the film room and in the classroom is what helps motivate and inspire the younger players in the program.
Already this season, the Black Bears’ maturity has been revealed in their collective commitment to significantly reducing penalties — especially those that result when tempers flare — and cutting way back on turnovers via a commitment to ball security and better decision-making.
Ultimately, UMaine may not have the same wealth of talent and depth possessed by other more high-profile programs in the CAA. But the intangible qualities demonstrated by this team, led by the senior class, may well keep the Bears in the postseason hunt.