Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A rested Jean Sifrin excited to return to action against Ball State.

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(Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian)

(Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian)

When the Massachusetts football team faces Ball State Wednesday night at McGuirk Stadium, it will mark the first time the Minutemen appear on national television this season.

The game is set to air at 8 p.m. on ESPNU, the next installment of what’s been coined as “MACtion,” – a unique series of mid-week games in the Mid-American Conference televised on ESPN. It’s one of two appearances for the Minutemen this season in a mid-week affair.

For UMass tight end Jean Sifrin, it’s not only an opportunity to give the country a glimpse at one of college football’s best tight ends, but a chance for his family to catch a glimpse of him as well.

“It does mean a lot, especially that my family is going to be able to see me,” Sifrin said. “Where we’re from, nobody in my family has anything like this going on for themselves. For me to be doing this and for them to be able to watch it, I’m very happy about this.”

Sifrin arrived this season after a winding journey. Originally from Miami, Florida, Sifrin attended El Camino Community College in California to play junior college football a season ago. After transferring to UMass, the 27-year-old missed all of the preseason and the first regular season game of the year awaiting clearance from the NCAA.

But since gaining eligibility, Sifrin’s produced prolific numbers which have placed him among the nation’s top tight ends. He’s amassed 549 receiving yards this season, which is second in the nation to Jonnu Smith of Florida International. Smith currently has six more yards than Sifrin, but has also played two more games.

Sifrin’s had to bide his time – UMass hasn’t played a game in 17 days due to a double bye week – while he watched Smith pass him. But that’s also meant recuperation for Sifrin and other members of the Minutemen’s prolific offense.

“A lot of people were injured and the 17 days, it’s been a major factor in the way we’re going to play the next three games,” Sifrin said.

“All I did was rest,” Sifrin said with a smile. “That’s all.”

Sifrin also anticipates the offense – which has scored at least 35 points in its last five games – to pick up right where it left off against Ball State despite the extended break.

“It’s not going to hurt us,” Sifrin said. “I don’t think we’re going to come out in the first quarter off beat, we’ll still be on the same beat. There’s no negatives.”

“Having all those days off, I actually see myself running faster than since the beginning of the season, so it’s a good thing,” Sifrin said.

The idea of an even faster Jean Sifrin may petrify opposing coaches, and make his own coach, Mark Whipple, giddy.

Whipple’s no stranger to working with talented college prospects at tight end. During Whipple’s tenure as offensive coordinator at Miami, he coached current New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham.

Graham and Sifrin share a common connection in that both were former basketball players turned standout tight ends. Sifrin said he hears stories about Graham from Whipple “every day,” but warned against assuming they’re completely the same.

“For them to compare me to him, he was what, 20, 21 (years old) at the time,” Sifrin said. I might know more, but I’m older (now). That’s the thing that when they try to compare, I always think that.”

Sifrin did acknowledge that his prior basketball experience translated into success as a tight end.

“I was real good at basketball,” Sifrin said, who said he excelled as a rebounder and defender.

“Going up every time, two hands strong and coming down with the ball, that was the thing that helped me. If I go play football, most of the time because I’m tall they’re going to throw it up higher to me and I’m gonna make plays.”

Sifrin even said he toyed with the idea of trying basketball at UMass and said he’s friends with players on the team, but laughed at Whipple’s potential reaction to that endeavor.

“I told (his friends) that I wanted to play basketball, but I don’t think it’s going to be able to happen,” Sifrin said. “I’d have to drop to like, 215 (pounds), and coach would not like that.”

For now, Sifrin will have to continue to excel on the gridiron, and he’ll return to action Wednesday night.

Mark Chiarelli can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Mark_Chiarelli

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