ORONO – Chris Arnao doesn’t mind receiving a little personal recognition, especially as he nears the end of a notable football career at the University of Maine.
What the senior right tackle relishes is being a member of the offensive line, where success is measured in great part by the statistical accomplishments of the running backs, quarterbacks and receivers for whom the linemen block.
Arnao (pronounced are-NAY-oh) is enjoying the ride this season as a member of a powerful offensive line that has helped pave the way for the Black Bears’ 7-3 record. UMaine takes a five-game winning streak into Saturday’s noon Colonial Athletic Association game at Rhode Island.
“It’s a lot more fun when you’re winning,” said the 6-foot-7, 305-pounder from Newtown, Pa..
Arnao became a starter as a redshirt freshman in a game at Nebraska in 2005. He has since made 39 starts in a possible 43 games (he missed four with an injury), including the last 32 in a row.
“He’s been very durable and has played guard for us as well as tackle,” said UMaine head coach Jack Cosgrove. “He’s been a good player for us and I think this is, without a doubt, his best run of football.”
Arnao and classmate Ryan Canary have provided plenty of leadership and experience on a line that has two first-time starters, including a freshman and a sophomore. Arnao has been pleased with their development.
“We’ve always had confidence in everybody on the offensive line,” Arnao said. “Tyler [Eastman], Steve [Shea] and Matt [Barber], their knowledge of the game has grown so much and it has really helped their play. Ryan and I, we try to help them, but they don’t need much help any more.”
Offensive line coach Frank Giufre said Arnao has played a key role in the chemistry and cohesiveness of the unit.
“He’s the union steward, the voice of the common man,” Giufre said of Arnao’s desire to look out for his teammates. “His nickname is ‘Mr. Consistency.’ He’s a good role model for the younger guys.”
Arnao, who chose UMaine over Akron coming out of Notre Dame High School in Lawrenceville, N.J., is passionate about playing in the trenches – alongside his fellow linemen.
“It’s not about you any more,” Arnao said of playing up front. “There’s not a whole lot of tangible things there. Five guys have to work directly together and you have a camaraderie with those guys, relationships we’ll probably have for the rest of our lives.”
Arnao made the transition from high school to Division I by adjusting to the speed of the game, building strength through work in the weight room and learning the proper techniques that allow him to best utilize his big frame against an opposing end.
Arnao was selected as the team’s offensive player of the game Saturday after UMaine rushed for 296 yards in a 21-20 CAA victory at Massachusetts.
He takes tremendous pride in the ability of the line to play tough, hard-nosed football that leaves an impression on its opponents. UMaine has done that, even as part of its multiple “spread” scheme that is better known for finesse football.
“We’re more physical and we’ve embraced that concept and brought it to the spread system,” Arnao said. “We pride ourselves on that physicality, understanding defenses and attacking them.”
Arnao credits his parents, Martha and Francis, with creating in him a desire to do everything he attempts to the best of his ability. When it comes to his football development, he praised the efforts of Giufre.
“Coach Giufre has really changed the way I look at the game over the last two years,” Arnao said. “He has really helped me become more intellectually astute in understanding and speaking about football.”
Arnao, who is majoring in business, hopes to take his football career as far as it will go. When his playing days are over, he might even consider coaching rather than join the 9-to-5 routine.
In the short term, his goal is a simple one.
“Whenever you’re in November and you’re winning and you have a chance for greater things, the games always mean more,” Arnao said. “We want to go down [to Rhode Island] and flat-out win, physically beat them up, and keep our aspirations of having a 13th game [postseason] alive.”