Matt Mulligan arrived at the University of Maine in 2005 with one year of organized football under his belt.
Sunday night, the tight end from West Enfield agreed to a two-year, free-agent contract to play with the National Football League’s Miami Dolphins.
“I’ll tell you what, it’s been very crazy, nerve-wracking, but exciting, too,” Mulligan said.
“The whole day was just out of control,” Mulligan said of watching the NFL draft on TV while fielding calls from representatives of numerous teams trying to procure his services.
The 6-foot-4, 258-pound Mulligan wasn’t the only UMaine product to earn a shot at playing in the NFL.
Former Black Bears teammate Anthony Cotrone, who arrived at UMaine as a quarterback, parlayed the switch to H-back into a free-agent deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
NFL contracts are not guaranteed and only take effect if a player earns a spot on the team roster.
The rugged Cotrone weighed a handful of offers but ultimately chose the Jaguars over the New York Jets, who made a push with calls from former UMaine teammate and Jets defensive tackle Mike DeVito and head coach Gino Mancini.
“Ecstatic,” is how the 6-2, 255-pound Cotrone described his mood while enjoying a glass of champagne with his family and friends in his Long Island, N.Y., home. “It was the most stressful, enjoyable day of my whole life.”
Jacksonville called Cotrone during Saturday’s first round and wished him luck. He didn’t hear from the team again until 5 p.m. Sunday, after the draft.
“I sat around for over 10 hours and watched 252 picks,” Cotrone said.
Mulligan and Cotrone both were swayed in their decisions by their associations with former UMaine players.
Former UMaine tight end Brian Gaine (1992-95) is the assistant director of player personnel for the Dolphins. His frank discussions with Mulligan about his prospects convinced the former Penobscot Valley High star athlete Miami would be a good fit for him.
“Brian Gaine was influential in my decision-making process,” said Mulligan, whom the Dolphins had pursued since November. “Since he’s from Maine, he’s not going to sit there and lie to me.”
It was Gaine who told Mulligan he possessed certain skills not evident among Miami’s four other tight ends. The Dolphins did not draft any tight ends.
Mulligan, who earned a $4,500 signing bonus, also was influenced by the fact Bill Parcells, Miami’s executive vice president of football operations, had directed Gaine to sign him.
“It’s an honor,” Mulligan said, “to think that [Parcells] thought enough of me to call Brian Gaine and say, ‘do not let this kid get away.'”
Mulligan pointed out his NFL connection doesn’t give him any guarantees.
“[Gaine] can give me all the chances in the world and bring me down there but, at the end of the day, the ball’s in my court,” he said. “The hard part is now, where I really have to show people that I can play.”
Cotrone signed with the Jaguars in part because former UMaine teammate Montell Owens has been on the roster for the last two seasons.
“I figured my best way to learn an [NFL] offense would be to work out with Montell,” said Cotrone, who signed a three-year deal and would not divulge the amount of his bonus other than to say, “I did well.”
Cotrone, who had been flown to Jacksonville last week to meet with the staff, said he received calls Sunday from head coach Mike Tice, a Long Island native, team owner Wayne Weaver and numerous team personnel trying to convince him to sign.
Cotrone, not wanting to finish his career at UMaine as a backup quarterback, had switched positions in 2005 – only a week before his debut as the starting H-back against Nebraska.
“All the hard work paid off,” said Cotrone, who credited former UMaine teammate and running backs coach Michael Zyskowski with having a big hand in his progress.
“He helped me develop more than anybody,” he added.