Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Mike Wegzyn the early frontrunner in UMass football quarterback competition

Maria Uminski/Collegian

Mike Wegzyn wants to make one thing clear when it comes to the starting quarterback battle brewing on the Massachusetts football team.

No matter how fierce the competition may seem from outside the walls of McGuirk Stadium, no matter how much any of the three candidates vying for the starting spot may seem to want it more than the other, and no matter how much one may seem to be a favorite more than the other, there’s never any love lost when one practice session ends and they put the pads away.

“At the end of the day, we’re all friends, that’s what people outside don’t really notice,” Wegzyn said. “When we go back to eat, we’ll sit together, we’ll talk, we’ll have fun, we’ll hang out together, so we’re all buddies at the end of the day. There’s not like a deathly competition going on.”

It isn’t “deathly,” but there is certainly a competition. With five spring practices – and a sixth on Tuesday morning – in the books, all three candidates – Wegzyn, A.J. Doyle and Brandon Hill – have had equal opportunity to show their coaches why they could potentially start next season’s opener at Wisconsin on Aug. 31.

The result? Wegzyn is the frontrunner, according to coach Charley Molnar, but Doyle isn’t too far behind. Hill, who will be a redshirt junior at the start of the 2013 season, is in the conversation, but the fact that he didn’t play last year hurts his chances.

“Mike would be 1A, A.J. would be 1B, but both of them right now are still highly competitive,” Molnar said last Thursday.

From the outside looking in, it would appear – at least judging from last season’s body of work – that it would be Wegzyn’s job to lose anyway. He started 11 of the Minutemen’s 12 games, and according to Molnar, took 75 percent of the team’s snaps compared to 25 percent for Doyle.

Additionally, Wegzyn, who will be a redshirt sophomore next season, already has a year of spring ball under his belt, while Doyle, who will be a true sophomore next year, is just going through his first round of spring practices.

Those experiences are something Doyle doesn’t necessarily have, and can be reason enough to explain why Wegzyn has the edge early on.

“I feel head and shoulders above where I was last year, and even the end of the season,” Wegzyn said. “I’ve had that experience, I’ve got that under my belt. I know what to expect with college football more so, the speed of the game, everything that goes into it.”

His coach agrees, and even says the quarterback is trying to learn things that his teammates may not even be ready for just quite yet.

“I think Mike Wegzyn is really improved from where he was at in the fall,” Molnar said. “Everything he does is better and is faster. He’s a more accurate passer, he’s more confident, his footwork is much more consistent, he’s got a better grasp of the offense.

“In fact, there are some things he wants to do where I actually tell him, ‘No, we can’t do it yet,’ because we haven’t gone over it with everybody else, so he couldn’t have done that five months ago.”

But that’s not to say Doyle isn’t far behind in the process. After all, he did start the team’s final game of the season last year, and Molnar seems to be impressed with him as of late.

“A.J. was a little bit slower getting going, but (Thursday) was by far his best practice of the year,” Molnar said. “He threw a couple of bad balls in some of the team stuff, but overall, his drill work and his understanding, he’s starting to put it all together. This is his first spring, so he still has a lot of room for growth.”

And with less than two weeks left until the Minutemen’s spring game on April 20, that’s exactly what Molnar and his staff are looking for, not only in competition at quarterback, but across all positions: growth.

Molnar said he doesn’t anticipate naming a starter at quarterback until deep into the summer, but that doesn’t make what they’re doing this spring any less important. In fact, the competition, as fierce as it may get, is something that could certainly help his quarterbacks in the long run.

“It’s definitely going to benefit us both,” Doyle said. “We both know that our jobs are never going to be safe, and also with Brandon Hill back now, we don’t know. That’s three guys right there that are all capable of starting for this team.”

Stephen Hewitt can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @steve_hewitt.

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