Saturday, December 7, 2013
ORONO -- The area surrounding the football offices at the University of Maine occasionally resembles a bustling urban cafe.
Above, and to one side, construction workers busy themselves with renovations to Memorial Gym. Players and coaches navigate the hallways, alone or in pairs.
Through all the commotion, balancing an open laptop on an outstretched palm like a waiter bearing an hors d'ouevres tray, Marcus Wasilewski strides toward the office of offensive coordinator Kevin Bourgoin.
Wasilewski has been studying cut-up video showing various defensive alignments for an upcoming opponent, and he has a question.
"I watch formation by formation," says the senior quarterback. "I'll go through every coverage that they play to that formation, and go through all my passes, and where I'm planning on going with the football to each coverage, depending on the play and blitz and all that stuff."
Wasilewski studies video every night, and takes the laptop with him to the training room when he receives treatment for the various bumps and bruises that result from being the target of opposing pass rushers.
The meticulous preparation pays off in those few seconds before each snap, when Wasilewski looks across the line of scrimmage, sends a tight end in motion, barks out a few code words, perhaps even raises his hands as if to receive a shotgun snap before relaxing and looking to the sideline for signals of a new play.
The Black Bears are 5-1 overall, 2-0 in the Colonial Athletic Association and ranked as high as 14th in one NCAA Football Championship Subdivision poll. After a bye week, they return to action Saturday against visiting William & Mary (4-2, 1-1).
With half the season still to go, the Black Bears already have matched their victory total from last year's 5-6 campaign. Much of the credit for that success rests in the decision-making -- as well as play-making -- abilities of Wasilewski.
"The stabilizing factor has been the quarterback," said Maine head coach Jack Cosgrove, himself a former signal-caller. "He's a very calming factor. You look out there and we've got some of these young guys lined up wrong, or in the wrong position, or not exactly where they should be, and Marcus kind of gets everything right, just with his command of the offense."
Wasilewski earned the starting job last August after a training-camp battle with classmate John Ebeling, each of them hoping to replace the departed Warren Smith. Ebeling has since become a slot receiver and one of Wasilewski's favorite targets, with 25 receptions second only to Derrick Johnson's 37.
In one second-half series in Maine's recent 62-28 dismantling of Delaware, Wasilewski and Ebeling traded places, with Ebeling directing the no-huddle show and Wasilewski lining up between the wide receiver and left tackle. Ebeling ran the ball or handed off, but the added wrinkle gives opposing defensive coordinators something else to consider when preparing for Maine.
"It was definitely fun to get back behind the line and be a quarterback a little bit," said Ebeling, who also handles long-snapping duties on punts and has been in on a couple of tackles. "I think (Marcus) has fun going out there and hitting some people."
Earlier this season, in Maine's 35-21 loss to Northwestern, a Football Bowl Subdivision program then ranked 15th in the country, Ebeling removed his receiver gloves and took over at quarterback when Wasilewski was temporarily knocked out of the game.
The Black Bears didn't miss a beat, continuing a drive that, four plays later, resulted in Wasilewski returning to throw a touchdown pass to tight end Justin Perillo.
"I didn't really have a lot of nerves going into it, because I was already into the flow of the game," said Ebeling, who later in the game caught a touchdown pass from Wasilewski. "It's not like I was coming in cold off the bench. I knew that we were probably going to call some QB runs. It wasn't too big a deal to be out there. It was just fun and exciting."
If called upon again, Ebeling is ready to peel off his gloves and return to the backfield, but he knows Maine's best chance of returning to the national playoff picture is for both he and Wasilewski to be on the field together. Perhaps no other Black Bear understands Wasilewski's value as much as Ebeling does.
"He's got an unbelievable amount of responsibility," said Ebeling, who listed some of the quarterback's duties prior to actually receiving the snap. "The number one thing he's doing is film study. He knows so much about their defense when he goes out there, and defenses haven't been able to disguise things."
It's a balancing act, a combination of knowing and doing, of reading and reacting, of translating laptop images into onfield success. On Saturday afternoon in Orono, the curtain rises on the second half of that act.