Comprehensive program framework, philosophy help UMaine football overcome odds

As the University of Maine prepares for Saturday’s NCAA Football Championship Subdivision playoff game against Appalachian State, now is the perfect time to recognize what the program has accomplished.
Coach Jack Cosgrove takes a Black Bear team that is 8-3 and ranked No. 13 in the nation to Boone, N.C., where UMaine will be the underdog against the ninth-ranked Mountaineers (8-3) of the Southern Conference.
UMaine has overcome difficult odds to place itself among the best 16 FCS teams, any one of which is four victories away from a national championship.
UMaine faces many hurdles in its attempt to stay competitive, whether regionally, in the Colonial Athletic Association or nationally.
First is its campus location. Orono is nearly three hours north of the closest Division I athletics program at New Hampshire.
Since UMaine does much of its recruiting in New York and New Jersey, Orono is a tough sell to recruits accustomed to the faster pace of life in the tri-state area.
And while UMaine is always competitive, it has not been able to keep itself among the upper echelon of programs in the CAA, which is considered by most to be the best FCS league in the country year in and year out.
As a result, UMaine gets very few of the top-tier FCS players who are being sought by many of the other FCS teams.
Cosgrove and his staff wind up bringing in players who might be a little smaller, a bit slower or were simply overlooked during the recruiting process. Most receive no other full-scholarship offers.
The Black Bears sign some players who might not have glowing academic backgrounds or those who have shown potential, but haven’t achieved at an elite level on the field.
That makes recruiting a process of identifying good, solid young men who are motivated to prove they have what it takes to succeed. Their character is often as important as their skills.
Then, there is money. Though the program is criticized for its sizeable budget, Cosgrove continues to work with financial resources that pale in comparison to most CAA teams.
In spite of it all, UMaine is in the playoffs this season.
This team’s accomplishments are the result of two primary factors.
First, the Bears boast a dedicated, motivated group of seniors who have paid their dues and are setting the standard. Their experience and leadership — developed during the course of four or five seasons in Orono — is critical.
UMaine is in this position because Cosgrove and the athletic department have developed a comprehensive system that works.
UMaine has brought these young men to Orono and provided them with a framework in which they can succeed. Whether it is instruction on the field, in the weight room, watching game film or the guidance of its academic support team, Black Bear players are given every opportunity to succeed.
Those who embrace the system excel. The few who don’t go home.
Behind it all is a commitment to developing young men. Cosgrove and his staff emphasize the importance of hard work, dedication and academic excellence.
They use football as a tool to teach student-athletes important lessons that will help them leave Orono as productive citizens who will proudly represent themselves, their families, their hometowns and their alma mater.
UMaine’s success is measured in much more than a won-lost record, but fans should appreciate what a terrific season the Bears have had.

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About Pete Warner

Pete is a Bangor native who graduated from Bangor High School, Class of 1980. He earned a B.S. in Journalism (Advertising) from the University of Maine in 1986. He has been a full-time member of the Bangor Daily News Sports staff since 1984. Pete lives in Bangor with his wife of 32 years, Annia. They have two adult sons, Will and Paul. Pete is fluent in Spanish and enjoys visiting his in-laws and friends in Costa Rica. His hobbies including hunting, fishing and listening to jazz.