Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A.J. Doyle living the dream as UMass’ starting quarterback

By Nick Canelas

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Maria Uminski/Daily Collegian

A.J. Doyle had a chance to lead the Massachusetts football team to an upset.

Trailing by a mere three points to Vanderbilt early in the third quarter on Saturday, the Minutemen had the ball and another chance to take their first lead of the afternoon.

Doyle had been playing well to this point in just his second start of the season, completing 17-of-22 passes for 121 yards and a first-quarter touchdown that tied the game at 7-7 at the time.

Pinned back at his team’s own 3-yard line and down 10-7, the sophomore quarterback went to work. His first pass of the drive on second-and-9 went nine yards to Bernard Davis. First down. Two plays later, he dropped back to pass, immediately found an opening in the Commodores’ defense and ran the ball for a 9-yard gain.

This time, however, Doyle came up limping.

He grabbed his left leg after the play and needed help from the training staff to work his way back to the sideline. It certainly didn’t look good for Doyle, who had battled all through training camp and in the first two games of the season as a backup for this very opportunity.

But Doyle was fine. According to the quarterback, it was simply a twisted ankle. Once he got it taped and got the green light from the trainers, he was ready to go.

Meanwhile, Mike Wegzyn was leading the Minutemen into Vanderbilt territory in his first appearance since being benched at halftime against Maine in Week 2.

Doyle approached UMass coach Charley Molnar.

“I’m ready to go,” Doyle said.

“Get out of here,” Molnar said jokingly.

Wegzyn stayed in. But the drive stalled. On the next series, Doyle was back on the field.

The end result wasn’t pretty for UMass – the Commodores pulled away in the fourth quarter for a 24-7 victory – but after all the challenges he endured just to fulfill his dream of becoming a Division I starting quarterback, there was no way he was letting a minor injury potentially ruin this opportunity.


Playing quarterback has always been a passion of Doyle’s. Whether it was in the backyard or in Pop Warner as young as 7 years old, Doyle has always loved being the one in control.

Even in basketball he said the ball was always in his hands. In baseball, he was a pitcher. So why would football be any different?

“There’s something about it,” Doyle said. “I like being the guy, like being in control, having the ball in my hands.”

Doyle was given that opportunity sooner than he had expected his freshman year at Catholic Memorial High School in West Roxbury.

Exactly one week before the first game of the season, the Knights’ starting quarterback and captain suffered a sprained ankle during the team’s last scrimmage. Doyle, despite being just a freshman, was his backup.

So for the very first game of his very first year of high school, Doyle was called upon to lead Catholic Memorial to a season-opening win over Haverhill.

The pressure was on. Doyle had never been more nervous for a start in his life, even to this day.

“I was a freshman, I didn’t want to screw up,” Doyle said.

But he delivered. Doyle threw his first career touchdown pass and led the Knights to a win.

“A.J. had size and speed and skill so he fit the bill even though he was a young player,” Catholic Memorial Athletic Director and football coach Alex Campea said. “He had a touchdown pass, managed the game, did a great job and I do recall that he told me, ‘Coach, you don’t know how many butterflies I had,’ and I go, ‘Well, that’s a good thing. It means you’re excited to play the game.’”

Doyle was used sparingly for the rest of the season, but was the starting quarterback from his sophomore through senior year. He was a two-time captain, Catholic Conference MVP and also played linebacker.

“He’s very competitive, he’s driven to excel, so he got better every year from sophomore year to junior year to senior year,” Campea said. “He worked on his skills, he worked, obviously during the season, but he worked hard in the offseason to make himself a better football player. I think those are attributes all coaches look for in their players: willingness to work hard, get better as his years went along at CM and now as his time is moving along at UMass.”

There was a time, though, when UMass was no longer a possibility for Doyle.


Doyle received several scholarship offers during the college recruiting process. The one that stood out to him the most was from Atlantic Coast Conference school North Carolina State. However, that scholarship was to play linebacker.

He accepted anyway.

But as he was going through summer workouts at Catholic Memorial and started what would be his final season as a quarterback, he had a change of heart.
He de-committed from NC State.

“Just going through the summer workouts for my high school and through camp and starting the season and really just loving playing quarterback and loving being that guy, there was just no way I wanted to give up that dream,” Doyle said.

Once he came to that decision, one of the first people he told was Campea.

“Coach, I’m gonna de-commit because, although NC State is a great school, it’s a great opportunity, but I really don’t want to play linebacker. I want to play quarterback at the next level,” Campea recalled Doyle saying.

“A.J. I think you can,” Campea responded. “I think you’re more than capable of being a Division I college quarterback. But are you willing to give that up right now?”

According to Campea, Doyle consulted his parents and they agreed that it was the right choice to make. From there, his coach advised him to inform then-Wolfpack coach Tom O’Brien of his decision to de-commit.

Doyle listened and was ready to move on to become a college quarterback.

“Once his mind and heart were in the right place, meaning wanting to be a quarterback at the next level, made the decision, I was happy for him and that opened up the door to what has transpired, which is the opportunity to go to UMass and play as a Minuteman,” Campea said. “I know he’s happy about it, I know his parents are happy about it and he realizes there’s a lot of work to be done, but he’s not afraid of that.”

The best offer that remained came from Molnar at UMass. And there was no way he was passing that up.

“I just couldn’t give up playing quarterback and so I decided while I still had the opportunity and I had these four or five years, that I’d take this chance and play quarterback at the college level,” Doyle said.

Things certainly didn’t get any easier for Doyle from there. He still had a long way to go before that chance to fulfill his dream would finally come.


Doyle was one of Molnar’s first recruits at UMass, but it didn’t mean the starting quarterback job was a lock.

Molnar gave Wegzyn, then a redshirt freshman, the nod for the 2012 season and Football Bowl Subdivision opener at Connecticut, as well as for the next 10 games. Doyle saw action in seven of those games, but didn’t make his first collegiate start until the season finale against Central Michigan.

In that time, he said he never second-guessed his choice to de-commit from NC State, or to come to UMass. He was simply working hard and waiting for his time to come.

“I knew we were a young team and I knew I had a lot to learn and a lot to improve upon so it was just a matter of time before I started to get starts,” he said.

Doyle certainly capitalized on his opportunity once it finally came. He completed 30-of-45 passes for 253 yards and two touchdowns against the Chippewas. Although UMass lost 42-21, he kept the Minutemen within reach for most of the game.

Most notably, he opened the door for what was expected to be a fierce quarterback competition in the offseason.

It didn’t quite work that way, however. An undisclosed injury set Doyle back during spring practice and Molnar named Wegzyn the clear front-runner heading into training camp.

But Doyle kept battling.

He returned to Catholic Memorial over the summer to train with Campea and some former teammates, as well as set an example for the current Knights team. He returned to Amherst with his sights set on getting back in the race for the start in the season opener against Wisconsin.

It didn’t come.

Doyle was frustrated and turned to Campea, who he still communicates with regularly. His old coach told him to keep his head up.

“As his coach and knowing A.J., I tried to be as positive as I could,” Campea said. “I said, ‘Hey, your time will come, keep working, I’m sure the coaches will see your attitude, your work ethic, your ability,’ and I believe that’s taken place.”

Doyle played a combined three quarters in relief through the first two games, both games UMass lost. Doyle’s play was mediocre at best, but Wegzyn was worse. Wegzyn completed less than half of his passes, led the Minutemen to just one score and was nowhere near as effective as advertised.

Doyle came in for the second half of that second game against Maine on Sept. 7, and although the final score – 24-14 in favor of the Black Bears – may not show it, he was immediately a calming presence.

That ultimately earned him the start the next game against Kansas State. In that game, which UMass lost 37-7, Doyle shook off a first quarter interception for a touchdown to lead the Minutemen into the red zone twice. They led 7-6 after 15 minutes of play.

The final outcome wasn’t what UMass had hoped, but Doyle wasn’t rattled by the atmosphere at Kansas State and Molnar was pleased with his quarterback’s performance.

“He was on the money today, and he doesn’t always do that in practice,” Molnar said after the game. “But today, he was sharp and his decision-making was pretty good. There was one or two he definitely missed, and we’ll work on those things and make sure we don’t miss them again. But I felt very confident with him out there tonight.”


It may have taken some time, and certainly some obstacles to overcome, but Doyle finally appears to have the starting quarterback job secured. For him, it’s a dream come true.

Since the moment he de-committed from NC State, all he’s ever wanted to do was play quarterback. He hopes for a chance to extend his career as a quarterback at the next level, but is aware of what it will take.

If that doesn’t work out, Doyle said he would like to coach one day, of course, as a quarterbacks coach.

“Playing quarterback has always been a part of me,” Doyle said.

The hope to play at the highest level hasn’t left Doyle’s mind quite yet, however, and it appears he’s not the only one who gives him a chance.

“I think he’s got all the skills necessary to be successful,” Campea said. “I haven’t coached him in two years, but what I know is that he’s a big, strong, physical player who’s athletic. I think once he has an opportunity and UMass has an opportunity to put all the pieces of the puzzle together, I think that success awaits him along the way.”

Nick Canelas can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @NickCanelas.

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