BIDDEFORD — Friday night there was visual proof.
Football has come to the University of New England.
More than 70 players dressed in shorts, UNE practice jerseys and unadorned white helmets ran onto the big blue turf at 7:07 p.m., to applause from family and friends, for the first practice in program history.
But before the players hit the field, Coach Mike Lichten probably let them know that while they are the first to wear UNE football gear, they were not the first to commit to UNE football.
“This isn’t the starting point,” Lichten said Thursday, the day before his team arrived on campus. “The starting point was two, three years. Everybody forgets the monumental commitment made by the administration and all the people that have had a hand in getting us to this point.”
Players arrived by 9 a.m. They were medically and financially cleared. They went through an NCAA compliance meeting. They were given their playbook and had football meetings.
“We could only feed them once – it’s an NCAA rule – so I’m really happy with how they persevered through that,” said Lichten, who informed the media beforehand that his players wouldn’t be available for comments.
As practice closed at 9 p.m., the energy was high, players cheering each other on through the final conditioning drills.
Lichten pulled his team together and reminded them how rare it was to be cheered for coming to practice. The team broke its huddle with Lichten saying, “take a step,” and the team responding, “to the top.”
The practice started with the teams split into offensive and defensive groups with the offense running through a series of plays.
“If we’re going to expect these guys to play fast and tough, they have to know what they’re doing. So before we even run and stretch them, we make them mentally go through what they’re required to know,” Lichten said.
Lichten called them together for a brief exchange before conditioning.
“Do the little things well,”…