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Andy Isabella making a case for himself as UMass football team’s most dangerous offensive player

(Jed Zuraw-Friedland/ Daily Collegian)

Last season, junior wide receiver Andy Isabella had a coming out party for the Massachusetts football team.

After hauling in only two catches for seven yards as a freshman in 2015, Isabella exploded for UMass during his second year, compiling 801 receiving yards and climbing to second on the Minutemen receiving yards list in 2016.

Just seven yards short of tying redshirt senior tight end Adam Breneman (808) for the team lead a season ago, Isabella’s production was a welcome addition to an otherwise anemic UMass wide receiving corps.

As the Minutemen now look to climb out of an early 0-2 hole this season, Isabella will be relied upon to replicate or even improve his breakout sophomore campaign.

“He’s certainly one that will get better when he gets on the field,” UMass head coach Mark Whipple said. “We have to continue to try and get him the ball.”

Isabella’s numbers thrust him atop the ranks as the Minutemen’s most lethal pass catcher, with top marks in receptions (62), receiving yards, receptions per game (5.2), and touchdown receptions (seven).

Despite UMass’s trouble securing wins on the gridiron last season, Isabella’s development was one of the lone bright spots in a less-than-flattering year for the Minutemen.

Turning the page onto this season now, Isabella admitted to falling victim to the pressure of some lofty internal expectations for himself.

“Maybe a little too much pressure [on myself],” Isabella said. “I have to start catching the ball better and focusing on the little stuff.”

The 5-foot-10, 195-pounder clearly is his own toughest critic because through two games, he’s been a dynamic presence all over the field for UMass.

His stats speak for themselves—141 receiving yards, two touchdown receptions, and a rushing touchdown in 120 minutes of game action.

In the team’s season-opening loss to Hawaii, Isabella had two of the Minutemen’s five touchdowns, and contributed with a 44-yard kick-return in the 38-35 defeat.

Last week, in the 38-28 loss to Coastal Carolina, the upperclassman out of Mayfield, Ohio reigned in 101 receiving yards and a touchdown reception, to further cement his status as a weapon on offense.

“He’s one of the hardest workers on the team. You almost have to tell him to stop doing some things because he wears himself out,” Whipple said. “That’s just the kind of player he is.”

With Breneman getting most of the attention from opposing team’s defenses, Isabella fits nicely as UMass’ number two target. With the combination of both Breneman and Isabella, the Minutemen have two extremely effective pass-catchers, even if their style of play is almost completely different.

“[Breneman] does a great job,” Isabella said. “The defense really has to watch for him, so that really opens up the field for the rest of us receivers.”

“They both complement each other,” Whipple added. “The big thing is they’re really good kids and leaders. Adam’s a little more vocal than [Isabella], but [Isabella] works hard. He’s the first guy out [working] on his craft.”

While Breneman can use his enormous 6-foot-5, 255-pound frame to muscle through defenders, Isabella relies on his quickness and high football I.Q.—most of which can be credited to him being a running back in his freshman season—to create space for himself.

“He’s just always in front. He’s a hard-worker, and he’s fast,” Whipple said. “He has a lot of pride, and is very competitive.”

That experience and familiarity at running back gives UMass the bonus of being able to plug him in at different spots, should the situation arise.

“He can play three, four different positions, which makes a difference. If somebody goes down, he can pop right in,” Whipple said.

While playing alongside a star talent like Breneman does have its perks, the reverse side of that coin, having to be the sidekick in a way, can rub some players the wrong way.

Not Isabella.

“We’re teammates so we both have our jobs. I just have to do my job,” he said. “Hopefully if I do my job, if we do both our jobs, we’ll win games.”

Isabella also said having a player of Breneman’s caliber motivates him, and the rest of the team, to work hard on a consistent basis.

With the season just about in full swing now, Isabella has the chance to have a special season and prove to any doubters that his incredible sophomore season was no fluke.

Ryan Ames can be reached at rames@umass.edu or on Twitter @_RyanAmes.

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