Kassan Messiah always had the tools to be a great football player in high school. He just never had the proper weight-lifting program to propel him amongst the elite linebackers in the nation.
Now entering his second season with the Massachusetts football team, Messiah is stronger than ever.
Messiah made it his goal this offseason to improve his overall strength. When UMass hired veteran strength and conditioning coach Mike Golden, his prayers were answered.
The sophomore spent much of the offseason under the guidance and instruction of Golden and had immediate results. He said there’s been an unbelievable difference in his strength and he can see his hard work paying off in practice.
“We had a great strength coach come to the program and he’s helped me a lot just with my individual strength and just getting bigger, stronger, faster, everything. And I’ve seen improvement on the practice field,” Messiah said after Wednesday’s practice.
Now it’s just a matter of it translating to game day.
Messiah led all Mid-American Conference freshman in tackles last season with 65 in just nine games played. That put him third on the Minutemen behind Perry McIntyre and Darren Thellen.
But McIntyre and Thellen graduated last year, which puts Messiah in position to lead UMass and evolve into arguably one of the top linebackers in the MAC.
“That’s definitely a dream,” Messiah said. “Just like it was a dream to play college football and it was a dream to play in the big time, so it’s definitely a dream of mine so I’m working hard to accomplish it.”
If the young Minutemen defense needs a vocal leader or someone to look up to, Messiah is willing to fill that role too. He’s just concerned with what is best for the team.
“Whatever the team needs that’s what I’ll do,” Messiah said. “If they need a leader, I’ll be more than happy to step into that leadership role and do whatever I have to do for the team to win. If that comes with me telling the guys what they need to do and what they don’t need to do then I’ll do that.”
The Orange, N.J., native said there wasn’t any aspect of his game in particular he wanted to get better at. Instead, he humbly stated he needs to get better at anything, which includes his technique, knowing his assignments and his pre-snap keys.
His personal goal for 2013?
“Just do better than I did last year,” he said.
He appears ready to do just that.
The 6-foot-4, 225-pound Messiah has had an increased role on the UMass defense through the first two weeks of camp. He’s primarily an outside linebacker, but could be seen handling a number of responsibilities during team drills in practice.
Whether it’s in coverage, stopping the run, blitzing off the edge or even shooting the gaps from time to time, Messiah is showing he can do it all and succeed so far.
He hopes his versatility combined with his dedication to improving will shape him and make him the dominant player he hopes to be. Maybe even the best UMass’ defensive corps has to offer.
“That’s what every individual player strives to be. I’m no different,” Messiah said. “My team as a whole is getting better every day and I’m one of those guys so I feel like if I’m getting better every day, then I don’t know. Who knows? The sky is the limit.”
Nick Canelas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @NickCanelas.