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Seniors honored Saturday against Dukes

Last year, the winningest class in the history of the Massachusetts football team graduated, leaving a legacy that will long be remembered.

This Saturday, when the Minutemen take on James Madison, a class of seniors will be honored at their final career home game. This group has a chance to take a step closer to tying the record set by last year’s senior class for most wins in a four-year span while leaving their own legacy.   

“It’s been a quality class, they have won a lot of football games,” UMass coach Kevin Morris said. “Some of them got to play in the national championship game, most of them played in playoff games and they have had a great career here, and we’re going to be sad to see them go.”

In the last four years, the class of seniors has gone 35-14, and with two wins in the final two games of the season, the class would tie the record for the best four-year span in UMass history. One win in the next two games would tie the class for second best with the seniors of 2006 and 2007.

The class of seniors includes defensive linemen Brandon Collier, Michael Hanson, Anthony Monette and Kyle Harrington, one of the best in the Colonial Athletic Conference this season. The group has led a defense that has only given up six rushing touchdowns all season, second best in the conference.

Kicker Armando Cuko, who set the single-season record for made field goals (18) last Saturday, and is one away from breaking the career made field goal record (30), is also among the graduating seniors.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Mintuemen will also be losing captain and All-American safety Jeromy Miles, defensive back Corey Davis and linebackers Kurt Filler and Eric Dickson. The offense will lose NFL prospect and team captain Vladimir Ducasse on the offensive line, as well as fellow linemen Jared Chivers and Bryan Fisher.

Other offensive players who will play their final game at McGuirk Stadium are wideouts Victor Cruz, Jeromy Horne and Joe Sandford as well as the Minutemen’s starting backfield, full back Chris Zardas and tailback Tony Nelson. Nelson is among one of the best running backs in UMass history, ranking sixth in career rushing yards (2,216), seventh in career rushing touchdowns (21) and seventh in career carries (498).

With a large senior class, this year’s squad as well as Morris has relied heavily on its leadership.

“We’ve leaned on them through thick and thin, and we’ve had both this season, and they have done a great job,” Morris said before Tuesday’s practice.

That leadership has helped not only in winning football games, but also in preparing future classes for UMass. With many injuries and the loss of a number of key players from last year’s squad to graduation, this year’s team has had veteran experience translate into strong performances out of the younger players on the team.

“That is why those younger players are playing well, because they are getting great guidance,” Morris said. “When a coach says something, it’s one thing, but when a peer says it, it’s a totally different thing. When a peer starts helping other peers out, that’s a good thing.”

But more importantly than the player’s accomplishments on the football field, Morris is excited for the future of the players outside of football once they leave UMass with a degree.

“We have a large group of guys who will be leaving the program as seniors and graduating, which we’re very proud of them for getting their degrees,” Morris said. “But we’re excited about what they brought to the program, and what they are going to bring to their communities down the road from the polished young men they are now.”

Jeffrey R. Larnard can be reached at jlarnard@student.umass.edu.

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