When the University of Maine football team gathered on the practice field Monday, coach Nick Charlton noted that it was the first time in 321 days they had practiced as a team.
The coronavirus pandemic shut down college sports last March, canceling the Black Bears spring practices and the Colonial Athletic Association ending the 2020 football season on July 17. .
Entering the field this week provided some relief for the Black Bears.
Just get back to the guys, some that I haven’t seen in nearly a year, which seems crazy but is what it is, just go out with them, it’s hard to explain, “said sophomore quarterback Joe Fagnano. To go back, the first time with the (defense), our helmets in training were normal, like everything went away for a minute and we could play football for a while.
And as Charlton said in a Zoom conference call with reporters on Thursday, it’s important for the Black Bears to practice. And not just because Maine has 37 new players to the roster, including transfers and freshmen.
This time is crucial for everyone, he said, noting that many players were meeting teammates for the first time this week. We have to get our workouts into it. If we couldn’t, we wouldn’t be able to play in the spring. You cannot go a calendar year without practicing.
Thursday morning was the first training session in full blocks. Boys flew around, said Charlton, who led the Black Bears to a 6-6 record in 2019, his first season as a head coach. It felt like football.
Mike Laverriere, a junior tight end from Arundel and Thornton Academy, said that while the team has been lifting weights and training for six weeks and holding socially detached positional meetings, nothing beats playing. I came here to play football, not just exercise, he said.
The Black Bears practice with various COVID-19 safety protocols. All players wear a face mask at all times, as do the coaches. And the helmets are equipped with splash guards that cover the area of the face mask around the nose and mouth.
Other security measures include limiting the number of players in the locker room, with positional groups usually coming together. They don’t stretch as a team before practicing, but do it in pods so they can distance themselves socially.
Charlton said it’s critical for the Black Bears to do everything they can to make sure they stay healthy.
We know we can’t go out the normal way, Laverriere said. Everyone contributes. Hopefully I’ll get back to normal soon. That’s what I’m looking forward to.
The spring season is on everyone’s mind too. Charlton noted that a lot has to be done before Maine can play. Much will depend on where the country is with the virus in March, as well as where state regulations and guidelines are.
Current COVID-19 guidelines would limit the number of people who could attend a home football game in Maine to 100. And travel restrictions could limit the states the Black Bears can travel to, or limit which teams can travel to Orono without a 14- day quarantine or negative COVID test. Charlton noted that the same rules would apply to hockey and basketball, which are hoping to play this winter.
Some changes need to be made, Charlton said. I think Maine handled (the pandemic) very well, that’s my personal opinion. We play out of state. This is a Division I football program, the flagship for the entire system. Our children, everyone, is committed. But in the end, we need some state-level administrators to help us and get that done. Everyone knows it.
And that’s why the players focus on what is happening in practice now, rather than what might happen in the spring.
I just want to play football, Fagnano said. I’m not going to worry whether or not it will happen in the spring. I just take it every day with my team.
REMARKS: Raffaele Salamone, the former Deering High star who is now a junior defense lineman for the Black Bears, is investigating an operation to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder. Salamone said he had injured the shoulder in the 2019 season and tried to heal it through rehabilitation.
During the summer I felt it more and more, he said. When we came back and did individual work and training it got more and more painful. So we had an MRI done and it showed the tear.
Salamone said he still attends practices and helps where he can.
I’m just trying to be an extension of our coach, he said. I remain positive in practice and help the young boys. I’ve been here for a while and know what to expect.
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