ORONO, Maine — In an unusual year, it’s been a normal practice week for the University of Maine as the Black Bears prepare to play their first football game of the season.
The six-game spring season kicks off at noon on Saturday when UMaine takes on the University of Delaware on the road.
The Blue Hens are the No. 25 team in the country heading into their home opener against the Black Bears.
It’s been more than 450 days since either team played against an opponent.
UMaine went 6-6 in 2019, losing its last game to rival New Hampshire on Nov. 23. This week’s opponent, Delaware, finished its last season with a 5-7 mark.
“[We’re] definitely excited to play,” Maine head coach Nick Charlton said during a weekly Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) press conference. “It’s been a long time and as I said to the team yesterday, it’s been 469 days since we played a game, so the guys are definitely excited to get back out there.”
The Black Bears began prepping for the opener last weekend and Charlton said the team is operating this week like they would in a normal season.
When Maine gets the ball for the first time Saturday, there will be new faces in the backfield. Only one running back on the roaster, Curtis Murray, has recorded a carry for Maine heading into the weekend.
Rutgers transfer Elijah Barnwell will start Saturday and freshmen Freddie Brock and Tavion Banks may also see reps as well.
Six starters return on offense, led by sophomore quarterback Joe Fagnano. In his freshman season, Fagnano appeared in eight games and threw for more than 1,800 yards and 17 touchdowns.
The long offseason may prove to be valuable for the young quarterback as Maine lost its top three receiving threats from 2019.
Wide receivers Andre Miller, Jacob Hennie, and tight end Shawn Bowman will return as options for Fagnano.
“The ceiling is as high as it ever is,” senior captain Andre Miller said during the team's weekly press availability about this team’s expectations. “We’ve got great players to achieve great things so, we’ll see how everything pans out.”
Redshirt freshman Michael Monios will start as the flex receiver Saturday and Montigo Moss, son of National Football League great Randy Moss, will back up Hennie, according to the depth chart.
On the defensive side, captain Deshawn Stevens will be the vocal and on-field leader for the Black Bears. The All-American missed the majority of the 2019 season after suffering a knee injury during the first week.
“I have a lot of high expectations for my peers around me, my teammates,” Stevens, a two-time captain, said. “I’m excited to see us go out to Delaware and put out the best performance we can.”
“You only go as far as your leaders,” Charlton said about Steven’s return. “Anytime you have a player like [Stevens] in your lineup it’s a big deal.”
The linebacker will be joined in the middle of the defense by Adrian Otero, who had the second-most tackles on the team in 2019. Defensive end Jamehl Wiley is the only returning starter on the d-line.
Charlton said there’s a lot of young talent in the secondary that brings a lot of energy to the defense.
“I like those guys a lot and we’re definitely excited about them, but they need to play a game,” he said.
Starting strong safety Fofie Bazzie is not new to college football, but he is new to the program. The Maryland transfer played in eight games for the Terrapins in both 2018 and 2019.
Defensive back Richard Carr has the most game experience under Charlton. The junior has played in 25 games for the Black Bears. Safety Robby Riobe and defensive back Jordan Swann are the new faces starting in the secondary.
“There [are] guys that have played football, but they got to play the whole game and naturally we got to see how many reps they can handle. There [are] other guys behind them that have played a little bit,” Charlton added.
Heading into the matchup against the Blue Hens, Charlton mentioned this opponent is physical and well-coached, along with having a great defense.
“It’s going to be about how everyone reacts when you get hunkered into the game and get through all the jitters and everything that guys are going to have on both sides and I think it’s going to be a great matchup, but we have a lot of respect for Delaware,” Charlton said.
This will be the first time Maine and Delaware have met on the gridiron since 2017. The Blue Hens lead the all-time series 24-11, but the Black Bears have won six of the last nine meetings.