Notebook: UMass football more comfortable this time around in spring practice

By Andrew Cyr

UMass football team training in the spring of 2013. (Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian)
UMass football team training in the spring of 2013. (Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian)

Last year when the Massachusetts football team started its spring practices, its goals and aspirations were straightforward and vague: just get better.

After a 2-22 start over its first two seasons at the FBS level, any sign of improvement would be considered a good year for the Minutemen.

This year?

With a full year of coach Mark Whipple back at the helm and only three starters – two on defense, one on offense – leaving UMass, its expectations are much higher.

Plain and simple, the Minutemen are thinking big.

“I guess you could say last year you could give it any excuse you want: a new system, a young team, whatever it is. There’s no excuse now,” said safety Joe Colton.

“(The returning players) talked about it and we believe it’s now or never. If we don’t get to a bowl, or get to wherever we need to be, it’s going to feel like a failure. For us to go through everything, lift all those weights, being here all the time doing what we do and to not go to a bowl, it will hurt.”

UMass started its spring camp on March 11, as the team plans to use these practices to improve on its weaknesses from the last season and to get younger players more repetitions than they did during the regular season.

“When you take your weaknesses and make them your strengths, that’s how you get better. That’s what we are trying to do,” Colton said.

Spring camp lasts for 42 sessions, including 15 practices before playing in its Spring Game on April 17.

A year of stability

Now with a full season to learn and execute Whipple’s complex NFL-based pro style system, the Minutemen’s confidence is higher as adjustments are coming easier.

“It’s been really good. On defense we are doing a lot of the same things and guys are really starting to get the playbook under their belt. Doing it for a second time, a second time (is much easier),” Colton said.

Linebacker Jovan Santos-Knox will be forced to make as many adjustments as any player making the switch to “mike” linebacker, the position that Stanley Andre played last year.

Although Santos-Knox will still line up as an inside linebacker, as the “mike,” he will be the vocal leader in terms of making the on-field calls and adjustments for the defense.

“I’ve made the move to mike (linebacker). I’m the same position that (Andre) was last year so I get to be more vocal and make all the calls. I feel like I’m the quarterback out there. I’m the Blake Frohnapfel on defense,” he said.

Santos-Knox attributed his understanding of the playbook and having a year of experience with the new system as the biggest factor in making the transition smoothly.

“It makes things a lot easier. I know where to be now and I know where my fits are. From a mental part it makes things a lot easier for me so I’m able to play a lot faster,” Santos-Knox said.

Minutemen add depth to secondary

UMass added another player to its secondary on Tuesday as Jordin Hamilton, a cornerback from Scottsdale Community College signed his National Letter of Intent to play with the Minutemen this upcoming season. According to the Maroon Musket, sources expect Hamilton to be eligible play immediately.

Hamilton, standing 5-foot-10, 155-pound, originally signed with Air Force in 2013 before attending junior college last season.

“We felt like we could use an extra cornerback,” Whipple said. “We have four seniors. He was a guy that wasn’t on our radar early but you can never have enough corners. You have to rush the passer, but certainly in the (Mid American Conference), and the way this game is going in college they’re important.”

Whipple said that the team has no other recruits planning on committing to UMass this year.

Andrew Cyr can be reached at [email protected], and followed on [email protected]_Cyr.