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March 22, 2017

Highly touted running back Lorenzo Woodley chooses UMass

Last Thursday, as he was finishing up a visit to a high school in Miami, Charley Molnar was just about ready to leave before he got a request that would change his 2013 recruiting class – and perhaps the future of a program – as he knew it.

The Massachusetts football coach was at Christopher Columbus High School, where he was meeting its head football coach, Chris Merritt, who told him that one of his top running backs, Lorenzo Woodley, hadn’t committed yet. The two then went to Merritt’s office, where they watched some film of Woodley. Molnar liked what he saw and asked Merritt to get him so they could talk.

Molnar and Woodley had a “great conversation,” and the coach later offered him a visit to come up to UMass. With National Signing Day around the corner, the process had to be quick, but it wasn’t until Saturday morning that Woodley accepted the offer to come up north to visit.

“We were really on pins and needles waiting to see if he would come up or not, and once he did, I knew we’d have a good shot,” Molnar said.

Molnar’s gut feeling was right. Woodley visited Saturday, left Sunday morning and waited a few days to ponder his decision. Ultimately, he faxed in his National Letter of Intent on Thursday morning as the 20th signee of the 2013 UMass football recruiting class.

Not only did he leave Molnar and his staff on pins and needles, but the rest of the UMass fan base as well.

News began to spread like wildfire on Twitter starting Monday night that Woodley – rated as a three-star recruit and the 40th best running back prospect in the country by Rivals.com – might sign with the Minutemen, prompting many fans and players to tweet at him wishing him to take his talents from South Beach to Amherst.

“(Social media) kind of impacted me and helped made me realize how badly I was wanted,” Woodley said via phone Thursday.

But as other recruits officially signed with UMass on Signing Day on Wednesday, Woodley waited and kept thinking. Fans kept pestering him, but he stayed put and eventually tweeted, “I will not be signing today! Need more time to think.”

“I just needed that extra time to make my decision and think about what I’m going to do and how this will affect the rest of my life,” Woodley said.

Molnar was patient and gave his potentially new running back the time he needed.

“I certainly understood that so we gave him some space and he communicated with me and with our staff throughout the day,” Molnar said. “I had a pretty good feeling that we were in a good place like I said but you just never know until the papers get there.”

Then, Thursday morning came, and the papers finally did arrive. Woodley was confident he made the right choice.

“This morning I woke up feeling good about it and I was happy about the opportunity and I didn’t want to miss out on it,” Woodley said.

Woodley will arrive to Amherst in the summer fresh off an impressive senior campaign in which he finished with 171 carries, 1,086 rushing yards and 25 touchdowns, which earned him interest from schools like Florida State, Ole Miss, Cincinnati and South Florida.

Ultimately, however, he turned them all down for UMass, where he will likely be a frontrunner for playing time this fall in a UMass backfield that will be without fifth-year senior Michael Cox, who was the main back last season.

“He’s very, very good at his position just like many of the other guys are at their position,” Molnar said. “But I can tell you this: Like everybody else, we recruited him to come here and compete right away on the football field and help our team win.”

Woodley was even more optimistic.

“I like the opportunity there, and I feel like I can go there and play right away and help change the program,” he said.

Stephen Hewitt can be reacted at shewitt@student.umass.edu and followed on Twitter @steve_hewitt.

 

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