Wilson eager to continue to prove himself as UMass prepares for Boston College

Collegian file photo by Maria Uminski

Collegian file photo by Maria Uminski

The Massachusetts football running back competition ultimately lasted throughout nearly all of training camp. It was the most hotly contested of any positional battle on the roster and, ultimately, was awarded to steady junior running back Jamal Wilson.

A competition as deep as the running back competition breeds depth and numerous players capable of handling the responsibility at running back. That wasn’t lost on Wilson or his coach Mark Whipple, who noted that the team will try to rotate backs as much as possible despite noting in the past that his preference is to have one running back who takes the majority of the snaps.

” We’ll let them all have some looks,” Whipple said. “Lorenzo (Woodley) is a little healthier and Jordan (Broadnax) has  been healthier this past week and J.T. (Blyden) keeps impressing so we’ll just kind of play it.”

Wilson earned the majority of the reps with the starters throughout camp and will open the year atop the two-deep depth chart. But he knows — Wilson rose up the ranks last year due to injuries and ineffectiveness from other running backs above him — that the work doesn’t end there.

“I’m humbled,” he said of being named starter. “I’ll just keep working every day like I’m not the starting running back.  I want the coaches to know that I’m the best man for the job and I come out here every day and try to show that when I’m running.”

That first showcase will come against Boston College, a team which allowed opposing running backs to rush for four yards a carry in 2013.

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Recapping UMass summer training camp

Photo by Daniel Malone/MassLive

Photo by Daniel Malone/MassLive

With the Massachusetts football season set to begin on Saturday at Gillette Stadium against Boston College, it closes out the summer training camp and practice period.

It was a pivotal month of August for UMass, which saw the return of coach Mark Whipple and a complete culture change throughout the entire program. The Minutemen officially opened their brand new football performance center which is adjacent to McGuirk Stadium. They also welcomed in a number of transfers to the program and installed new offensive and defensive schemes.

Below is a complete list of our 2014 training camp coverage.

Frohnapfel named starting quarterback 

The leading story throughout the first two weeks of camp was the competition for the starting quarterback job. Ultimately, graduate student and Marshall transfer Blake Frohnapfel edged incumbent starter A.J. Doyle. Here’s the story on the decision as well as a story on the feeling around the team leading up to the decision.  We also caught up with A.J. Doyle following the decision.

Running backs galore 

While the quarterback competition was cut-and-dry between two competitors, the running back competition was wide open. Ultimately, the coaching staff decided to choose Jamal Wilson, who will get the start against Boston College. But there was plenty to be made about those at the position who surprised and those who are no longer with the team.

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Mark Whipple appears on 98.5 The Sports Hub with Andy Gresh and Scott Zolak

Photo by Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian

Photo by Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian

Massachusetts football coach Mark Whipple was Boston on Wednesday to appear at a pep rally for UMass football at the Boston Harbor Hotel and as an in-studio guest on 98.5 The Sports Hub’s midday show “Gresh and Zo.”

Whipple spent two segments in the booth with co-hosts Andy Gresh and Scott Zolak, talking for nearly 30 minutes about a variety of topics including his return to the Minutemen, the season opener against Boston College on Saturday and his time as a coach in the NFL. Whipple noted he expects 2,400 students to bus to Gillette Stadium for the opener against the Eagles and he expects to face a big, physical opponent.

“I’ve known coach Steve Addazio and obviously (defensive coordinator) Don Brown and I coached together,” Whipple said.  Steve likes to play a physical game and he’s done that wherever he’s been. They’re going to try to run the ball and we’ve got to stop the run. That’s like anybody. If we can’t stop the run, then we’re going to be in trouble.”

Hosting the game at Gillette Stadium is a useful tool for Whipple and his staff in terms of regional recognition and recruiting, something he delved into on the air.

“The great thing for us about recruiting is that we’re excited because this is our home game,” Whipple said.

“We want every student-athlete and football player that’s a senior or junior in high school to be at the game. So we’re getting them tickets and I’ll see those guys before the game. It’s a part of our process and it’s part of building. I haven’t done it (recruiting) in a long time, so we’re excited about it and we’re excited to be at Gillette.”

Whipple spoke at length about acclimating his fairly young roster to Gillette Stadium. UMass’ practiced at Gillette last Wednesday which was more of an introduction to the area for his players. When Whipple coached at Miami, he faced a similar situation when his team faced Florida State under a much longer spotlight in a game the Hurricanes eventually won. He’s looked back on his notes from that game to help prepare for Saturday.

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Colton relishes opportunity to face Boston College

Photo by Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian

Photo by Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian

Massachusetts football safety Joe Colton is the quintessential example of a homegrown product, the perfect face for a program looking to create a stronghold on the local recruiting scene.

The 5-foot-10 junior grew up just 20 minutes away from Boston in Norwood. He won an Eastern Massachusetts Division I Super Bowl as the star running back at Xaverian Brothers High School, a perennial powerhouse within the state. He’s a feel-good story, a walk-on to the UMass program who eventually earned his scholarship through standout special teams play during his freshman season. Now, he’s one of the starting safeties as the Minutemen prepare to face Boston College on Saturday.

He’s a reliable player that UMass enjoys having and the Eagles — had they pursued him — could’ve had.

“Being 20 minutes from Boston meant every Saturday we were always watching BC games,” Colton said at Media Day. “I always used to say ‘I want to go there, I want to be at BC.'”

Despite sending out his interest in the program, the Eagles never reciprocated. He received just a single email from Boston College regretfully informing Colton that “it doesn’t look too good.”

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UMass releases 2014-15 hockey schedule

The Massachusetts hockey team released its official schedule Tuesday afternoon, consisting of 33 regular season games and one exhibition. The Minutemen will host 16 games at Mullins Center.

UMass opens the season at home on Friday, October 10th with a 7 p.m. contest against Boston University. The match-up will feature highly touted BU freshman Jack Eichel, who is considered one of the favorites to be drafted number one overall in next years NHL entry draft.

After that, the Minutemen hit the road for six straight games, including two at Michigan State and a showdown against talented Boston College in Chestnut Hill.

Starting November 29th against Quinnipiac, UMass is home for eight of ten games at Mullins Center. The highlights of that stretch include a two game set with Notre Dame and a visit from New Hampshire. On January 2nd, the Minutemen host Connecticut in the first ever Hockey East meeting between the two squads, as UConn enters its first year in the conference.

UMass finishes regular season play with a home and home series against Providence (February 20th-21st) before visiting Connecticut for their regular season finale on February 27th.

It should be another challenging and exciting slate of games for the Minutemen.

Ross Gienieczko can be reached at rgieniec@umass.edu and followed on Twitter @RossGien

Wilson named starting running back as UMass lists two-deep depth chart

Photo by Maria Uminski/Daily Collegian

Photo by Maria Uminski/Daily Collegian

While the Massachusetts football team ended its most notable roster debate earlier in training camp when it named Blake Frohnapfel starting quarterback, question marks remained at other areas of the roster.

But as UMass begins preparation for its season opener on Saturday against Boston College, many of those questions along the roster no longer remain. The Minutemen made its first iteration of the two-deep depth chart available on Monday adding clarity to who will start and play as immediate reserves on both sides of the ball.

Of note, the team named running back Jamal Wilson the starter and former tight end Rodney Mills will start at fullback. Mills can fill a variety of roles and should act as another weapon in the passing game. Defensively, nose tackle Robert Kitching edged senior Daniel Maynes entering week one as Maynes takes more reps as he recovers from a back injury. Redshirt freshman Jackson Porter will start opposite of Randall Jette at cornerback.

The full two-deep is as follows. For fun, you can compare it to our projection which ran last week.

Offense

QB: 1. Blake Frohnapfel 2. A.J. Doyle

HB: 1. Jamal Wilson 2. Lorenzo Woodley

FB: 1. Rodney Mills 2. Daquan Mack

 WR 1. Tajae Sharpe 2. Alex Kenney

         1. Jalen Williams 2. Shakur Nesmith

TE: 1. Brandon Howard 2. Jon Denton

LT: 1. Tyrell Smith 2. Tyshon Henderson

LG: 1. Fabian Hoeller 2. Michael Boland

C: 1. Matt Sparks 2. Rich Queen

RG: 1. Josh Bruns 2. Lukas Kolter

RT: 1. Elijah Wilkinson 2. Cameron Mock

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Dudley-Giles offers another dimension as a punt returner

Photo by Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian

Photo by Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian

For Trey Dudley-Giles, his exceptional ability to return punts stems from experiences in a completely different sport.

The junior defensive back grew up in Dade City, Florida and excelled on the baseball field  where he played centerfield. Manning the outfield taught him how to read fly balls and judge distance based off seeing balls hit off the bat. According to Dudley-Giles, the skill translates over to the gridiron.

“The reason why I can (return punts) better than most guys is I played baseball,” he said. “I could judge the ball really well and take the perfect step or the perfect direction back.”

As a sophomore, he averaged 12.3 yards per punt return in addition to his 22.3 yards per return average as a kick returner. He had a 77-yard punt return for a touchdown against Miami (Ohio) called back due to a holding penalty and became increasingly more confident and explosive as the season progressed last year.

“The first thing I think is to catch the ball and get vertical,” Dudley-Giles said. “Make a guy miss and just hit the sideline.”

On a team desperate for offensive explosion, Dudley-Giles represented a dynamic threat every time he stepped on the field.

“Everyone senses it,” special teams coordinator Ted Daisher said. “He has the playmaking ability. If we give him a chance, he’ll make a play for us.”

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