As he sat in his office on Wednesday, Massachusetts football coach Charley Molnar received faxes from recruits all over the country – and even one from Germany – finalizing his incoming freshman class.
On National Signing Day, the first day high school seniors can officially change their verbal commitments to a signed National Letter of Intent, Molnar tweeted out – with unique and clever hashtags – announcements of each signee that has chosen to don the Maroon and White beginning this fall.
In all, 21 new Minutemen will join the roster – 19 of which signed their NLIs on Wednesday. The two others, offensive linemen Josh Bruns and Sam Zeff, have already enrolled in classes at the University for the spring semester.
Molnar wasn’t short on praise for his incoming class, his second since taking over as head coach last year.
“(The class) is arguably the most talented group of football players to ever come to the University of Massachusetts,” Molnar said in a press conference Wednesday afternoon. “We think we put together the finest recruiting class in the history of the University.”
Headlining the class, which features balance on both sides of the ball, is a deep offensive line. Not including Bruns and Zeff, six offensive linemen signed their NLIs to UMass on Wednesday.
“We had a number of areas of concern in regards to depth and I think this year’s recruiting class certainly addresses some of those, the most obvious to anybody that follows UMass football is the offensive line,” Molnar said. “We’ve gone out and recruited six players that we think can help us immediately or in the near future on the offensive line.”
The big standout from Molnar’s new collection of offensive linemen is 6-foot-3, 301-pound Fabian Hoeller, who is a native of Cologne, Germany, where he was a member of the German national team and played for the Cologne Falcons, which is an American Football team that is in the North Division of the German Football League.
No one from UMass’ staff actually visited Germany to see Hoeller play, but he did make a visit to Amherst during the recruiting process. Hoeller is the first German-born recruit to ever commit to UMass.
“Any time we get a player like that, it’s generally connections, and we were able to connect the dots via another coach who gave us a call,” Molnar said.
The other offensive linemen to sign on with UMass were Tyshon Henderson, Enock Asante, Jordan Page, Rich Queen and Terrel Correia.
Molnar and his staff also recruited a number of skill players on the offensive side of the ball. One of the most notable is quarterback Todd Stafford, who was the first of the class to verbally commit to UMass.
Stafford, listed at 6-foot-7 and 250 pounds, is a native of Riverside, Conn., and played at the New Brunswick School in 2012, where he threw for 1,689 yards and 17 touchdowns, earning him an All-Erickson selection.
Molnar marveled about his natural abilities, and said he could emerge as a candidate for the starting job sooner rather than later.
“We think he is an absolutely phenomenal prospect for us,” Molnar said. “He’s got a major-league arm. … This guy looks like an NFL quarterback walking into the room, carries himself with great confidence.
“He’s coming in with the idea that he’s going to compete for a job and I’m certainly not going to dissuade him from that.”
The other offensive players to join the class are running back Daquan Mack, wide receivers Shaquille Harris, D.J. Woods and E.J. Burston, and tight end Sharif Custis.
Molnar said he would still like to add a speed running back to the class. There was some hype, especially on Twitter, that three-star running back Lorenzo Woodley would join UMass, but he tweeted that he would not be signing his letter on Wednesday.
UMass also added seven defensive players to its class: linebackers Shane Huber, Steve Casali and Peter Ngobidi, defensive backs Jackson Porter and Arthur Williams, and defensive linemen Peter Angeh and Elijah Wilkinson will all join the roster next season.
Molnar said he was happy with the level of commitment that his new players have with the program.
“This is what I like: this group of guys believe they’re coming here to win a conference championship and be a ranked football team,” Molnar said. “And the genesis of being a championship football team is the togetherness that a group of men feel for each other.
“It’s a pretty committed group of guys. Some of them have been committed since the summer, maybe one or two wavered for a moment, but beyond that, that core group I’ve really felt good about going into today.”
The process didn’t go without difficulty, however. Molnar directly addressed the University’s Faculty Senate, which voted on a call to reverse the football program’s status as a Football Bowl Subdivision member in a meeting last week, as a major barrier. The motion failed by one vote.
“There were some difficulties that we encountered this year in recruiting, the most obvious and the most glaring was the Faculty Senate and their decision to put out in the media and out in the general public a sense of indecision about the University’s commitment to move to 1-A football,” Molnar said.
Molnar praised UMass Athletic Director John McCutcheon and Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy for “calming the storm.” Both got on the phone with recruits to reiterate the program’s commitment to keeping its FBS status.
Molnar said each recruit that committed Wednesday has a chance to making an immediate impact next season. Last season, 12 true freshmen earned a start for the Minutemen.
“I tell every guy the same thing: I want you to prepare, physically and mentally, like you’re going to start against Wisconsin (in the season opener),” Molnar said. “Redshirting is not an option, I’ll decide on a redshirt down the road in consultation with the coordinator, the position coach and the young man himself.”
Molnar also announced that there is one fifth-year senior transfer that is “committed to playing football at the University of Massachusetts,” but he could not release his name, although it is anticipated to be former Michigan wide receiver Ricardo Miller.
Stephen Hewitt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @steve_hewitt.