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

Lorenzo Woodley shines for UMass in first career start against NIU

FOXBORO A noticeable grin creeped on Lorenzo Woodley’s face when he was asked the question in his postgame press conference.

Woodley, the Massachusetts football team’s much-hyped freshman running back, had just finished a career game. On a heavy workload of 38 carries, the 6-foot, 215-pound back amassed 163 yards and added a touchdown for good measure in his first career start Saturday at Gillette Stadium.

Robert Rigo/Collegian

The performance was special enough for any running back, let alone a freshman, but was there something about doing it against Northern Illinois, a team ranked No. 17 in the BCS standings, that made it even more special?

“Yeah,” Woodley said, smiling ear-to-ear. “It was kind of good.”

He digressed, speaking more like a proven veteran than some unconfident rookie.

“I expected them to be a lot tougher as far as their defense,” he said. “But I thought I handled it pretty well.”

It was the type of performance UMass coach Charley Molnar envisioned when Woodley made a last-second decision to commit to UMass back in February.

Then a three-star rated recruit at Christopher Columbus High School in Miami, Woodley had not committed to a school with just days remaining before the National Signing Day deadline.

After learning of Molnar’s interest, Woodley traveled north for an official visit to UMass. Days later, he faxed in his National Letter of Intent to officially become a Minuteman.

On Saturday, Molnar saw the fruits of his labor pay off.

“He really, really impressed me,” Molnar said. “He ran with power, he had good vision, sometimes he had great vision, showed some speed around the edge. He really was a complete running back from that standpoint carrying the ball.”

After an offseason worth of what Woodley described as “knick-knack” injuries he sustained, it was a slow process to get quality playing time. As a freshman, he expectedly didn’t get much early-season playing time anyway, instead having to wait his turn behind more experienced backs Jordan Broadnax, Stacey Bedell and Jamal Wilson.

But after Wilson suffered an undisclosed injury in last week’s game against Western Michigan, it was Woodley’s time. Broadnax and Bedell had been out for longer periods of time, and the Minutemen were forced to plug Woodley in “out of necessity,” Molnar said.

He showed glimpses of his potential at the end of last week’s loss to the Broncos. With his team trailing by a touchdown in the closing minutes, Woodley ran the ball nine times for 38 yards, including a 2-yard touchdown that brought the Minutemen to within one on their final drive.

“I was trying to build off last week’s performance,” Woodley said Saturday. “I feel like if I can lead the team on that drive, why can’t I lead the team the whole game? And that’s basically what I was trying to do throughout the week, have a great week of practice, come out and execute against NIU.”

Coming into this week, when he knew he’d be the No. 1 back, he knew he had to “grow up fast,” he said. And early and often, his number was called. He became more comfortable as the game wore on, going for runs of 25 yards, 22 yards and 24 yards, showing off not only his speed but his strength as well.

“This is the kind of back that we need him to be, what he demonstrated today,” Molnar said. “Now, he averaged 4.3 (yards per carry), he had a couple yards in losses that took away from that yards per carry. I think over time, when he gets into our winter workout program and goes through a full summer with us, that 4.3’s going to be 5.3 next year and 6.3 the next year, I really believe that.”

Woodley wasn’t looking as far into the future, but was mindful that this game is one he can build off of.

“It’s a good start for me,” Woodley said. “I feel like I’m going to get better and better each game. I still have some improvement I need to work on, but I feel like I’m going to keep getting better and better.”

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

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