Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass football fall camp: Jamal Wilson returns from injury with confidence he is ‘main guy’ at running back

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Collegian File Photo

Collegian File Photo

The Massachusetts football team’s loss to Vanderbilt last year on Sept. 13, 2014 was debilitating in multiple ways for the Minutemen.

Looking for its first win in its third game of the season, UMass led its Southeastern Conference opponent 31-20 in the second half. Yet, for the second straight week, the Minutemen blew a late 11-point lead, capitalized by Blake Lucas’ missed game-tying field goal attempt with six seconds left in regulation.

Prior to this heartbreak however, UMass suffered an additional loss in the first quarter in its then-leading rusher Jamal Wilson. At the end of an 11-yard reception against the Commodores’ defense, Wilson suffered a broken right ankle that kept him out for the rest of the season.

Now fully recovered and heading into his senior year, Wilson said he’s motivated by his shortened 2014 season and eager to lead a crowded group of UMass running backs competing to earn reps.

“All those games that I missed out on, at first I had a built up anger about not being able to play,” Wilson said after Monday’s practice. “But I’m just happy to be back out here on the field with my teammates. I’m ready to go and I’m really just taking it one practice at a time.”

As a redshirt senior, Wilson leads a Minutemen running back corps that also includes juniors Shadrach Abrokwah and Lorenzo Woodley, as well as freshmen Sekai Lindsay, Andy Isabella and Marquis Young.

Although UMass coach Mark Whipple hasn’t named a clear-cut starter at the position yet, Wilson said he feels confident that he’s the “main guy.”

“Honestly I feel that way,” Wilson said. “I go out there every day taking first team reps and try to make the minimum (amount) of mistakes as possible.”

However, Wilson added that the competition among the group has been a positive aspect through the first week of training camp by sparking personal motivation for each player and creating crucial positional depth one season after the Minutemen finished 11th out of 13th in the Mid-American Conference in rushing yards per game.

While Wilson appears in line to start, UMass also returns Abrokwah, who was named the preseason All-MAC fourth team running back after scoring seven touchdowns last year, and Woodley, who tallied five touchdowns in an up-and-down 2014 campaign. In addition, Isabella, a former track star from Ohio, has impressed with his speed and Lindsay has seen a number of reps with the first-team offense over the first week of fall practice.

“You never know what could happen. Anybody in this group has the ability to start,” Wilson said. “We just get behind one another and push each other.

“It’s like coach Whipple says, ‘If you want to compete you can be here. If you don’t want to compete, just pack your things and you can go play somewhere else.’”

Both Lindsay and Isabella have credited Wilson with aiding in their ongoing transitions to the college level of play.

Wilson said while the freshmen have made some errors, he added that they are picking up the playbook quicker than anticipated and will minimize mistakes with more experience. He called Isabella “super-fast” and lauded Lindsay for his decisiveness in runs and cuts.

“I like running backs who are smooth, they just make it seem effortless at times,” Wilson said. That’s what I see when I see (Lindsay) play.”

UMass running backs coach Darrius Smith said Wilson has been the ideal mentor for the Minutemen’s younger rushers.

“I cannot ask for better senior leader than Jamal,” Smith said. “He’s been able to guide these young guys in a way that you would anticipate a true veteran football player to do when he sees a young man with promise coming into the room.”

Anthony Chiusano can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @a_chiusano24.

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