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

A ‘polished’ J.T. Blyden intends to make an impact this spring for UMass football

(Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian)
The Boston College defense men fail to take down the unstoppable J.T. Blyden. (Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian)

J.T. Blyden’s eyes light up at the idea of tossing on pads and playing in the Massachusetts football team’s Spring Game, which is scheduled for April 17.

Blyden missed the final seven games of the 2014 season after suffering a concussion in the first quarter of an eventual 42-41 loss to Miami (Ohio) on Oct. 4. At first, his disappearance was a mystery, as it took three weeks for the team to confirm he suffered a head injury. Blyden practiced with the team throughout the rest of the season, but never again appeared in a game.

For someone who hadn’t suffered an injury in years, waiting was the hardest part.

“It’s tough because it’s something you don’t really feel out on the field,” Blyden said after Tuesday’s practice. “You feel like you should be able to go out, you don’t feel anything aching you or holding you back so you just want to get out so bad. But you know it’s not the right thing to do.”

Blyden then gestured to his head.

“It’s tough because you can’t necessarily see what’s holding you back, it’s something up here.”

It was the second concussion of Blyden’s career, but he deemed the first a minor one. Still, the team exercised extreme caution and never rushed him back.

“It was just something I had to get through,” he said. “Once you recover, there aren’t many residual things holding you back. I’m glad about it.”

Blyden can now turn his attention to competing for time at running back yet again.

He entered as a three-star recruit, but opened training camp working with the scout team. Ahead of him were returning running backs Jamal Wilson, Lorenzo Woodley and Shadrach Abrokwah, as well as incoming recruit Drew Harris, who later left the team.

Yet the 6-foot back from West Grove, Pennsylvania turned heads, impressing coaches to the point where he eventually earned reps with the first team in preparation for UMass’ season opener against Boston College.

It was a rapid ascension which he punctuated with a strong debut against the Eagles. He rushed nine times for 43 yards, caught a pass and was one of the lone bright spots in a lopsided loss. Blyden had all the makings of an impact player.

But he struggled to manufacture consistency and never rushed for more than 25 yards in a game before his injury. Then, he was gone, unable to do more than learn from the sideline. And as he did so, Woodley and Abrokwah shouldered the offensive burden. This year, Wilson returns after suffering a season-ending injury three weeks into 2014.

Again, the path to the top is muddled.

“I feel like it’s an open competition,” Blyden said. “I feel like it will always be with Coach (Mark) Whipple. He’s going to play the best guy … From now to camp and now to the first game is a long time, so I don’t think that set me back.

“I think I’ll have plenty of opportunities to show what I need to show.”

Whipple acknowledged Blyden’s injury history is long in the past. Now, he must make strides within the playbook in his second year in UMass’ offensive system.

“Especially being in the same system, there’s some recall,” Whipple said. “He should play faster. Instead of worrying about what you’re doing on offense, you’re worrying about what the defense is doing and taking the next step.”

Blyden placed emphasis on the jump from year to year. He likened it to when he played in high school. There’s less thinking and more natural playing. It’s something he hopes to display in next Friday’s scrimmage.

“When I came in I had to learn things quick,” he said. “Now I have time to polish all the fine details of everything. I feel like I’m a lot better versed in the playbook, I’m not really thinking anymore. I’m just going out and playing.”

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



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    Tom MassettiApr 9, 2015 at 2:45 pm

    The backfield has been decimated with injury after injury the last 2 years . . . hope we can catch a break and stay reasonably healthy this year!