A sense of relief washes over Massachusetts quarterback A.J. Doyle as he thinks of the opportunities in front of UMass this season.
Sure, he’s in the middle of yet another quarterback competition, this time with incoming transfer Blake Frohnapfel. And yes, the team has leaps and bounds to cross in terms of continuing to master new offensive and defensive schemes under new coach Mark Whipple. But all that is quite alright with Doyle because, simply, football and practice is fun again.
“There is a lot more energy, it’s a lot better energy too,” Doyle said. “It’s just a lot more fun to be right here. Obviously with the coaches, new systems, everyone is just excited to play football.”
At first, it sounds like an odd concept. The team has played a lot of football over the past two seasons — competing in 24 games and countless practices — but to a lot of players, it feels like the fun and exciting nature of the game has returned to Amherst for the first time in a long while.
“There’s a different feeling at practice,” Doyle said. “With the music, guys are flying around and having fun playing football again and that’s what it’s all about.”
Doyle even went as far to say that the team’s midnight practice — something Whipple described as a “punishment” type of practice — was “a lot of fun” as well. There’s an infectious level of excitement around the team right now, something that can only be viewed as a positive.
The next step for Doyle is taking that level of optimism into the quarterback room and onto the practice field every day as he competes for a starting job. He’s used to competition — he battled with former Minutemen QB Mike Wegzyn consistently for the better part of two seasons — and knows what’s expected out of him this year.
“At this point, no,” Doyle responded when asked if quarterback competition phased him.
“I knew there was going to be a competition, every day is going to be a competition no matter what. No one on this team has a starting spot right now. There may be guys that have the upper hand, but no one this team is guaranteed to start August 30th against Boston College.”
Doyle’s been here throughout the changing of the guard and was with the team in the spring as it installed the basic principles of the new pro-style offense. Having that extra time of practice has helped him in a lot of areas.
“It was definitely a big help having the spring, especially right now in the quarterback room,” he said. “Just overall being there to help out the guys at my own position and then being able to help everyone on the offense, having spring ball under my belt was just great for me.”
The pro-style offense is a considerable change from Charley Molnar’s spread attack and it’s something many players believe better suits their talents. Doyle noted there’s a significant increase in depth along the entire offense.
“It fits us, we have the personnel to do it,” he said. “It allows us to have a lot better depth…Those guys have been busting their butts every day and it’s next man up and the next man up is just as good as the guy before him.”
Ultimately, the offense will only go as far as the quarterback leading it. In addition to taking on additional responsibilities in learning new reads and assignments, Doyle’s focusing on being a consistent leader.
“I just gotta come out here, bust my butt, and be a leader,” Doyle said. “That’s the most important part right now is just being a leader and making sure everybody is doing the right thing.”
Mark Chiarelli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @Mark_Chiarelli