Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass football kicks off day one of fall camp Monday

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Collegian File Photo

Collegian File Photo

For the first time in its four-year history as a Football Bowl Subdivision program, the Massachusetts football team enters its fall training camp with a definitive answer at quarterback and some overall raised expectations.

However, despite the flurry of preseason accolades, head coach Mark Whipple made it clear on day one of camp that nothing will be freely given to the team – starting with the players’ numbers.

The Minutemen took to Gladchuk Practice Field on Monday sporting plain maroon and white jerseys vacant of any numbers or names in what Whipple said was symbolic of a new start.

“Going to camp, I just think that we’ve had a lot of good things said about us and I don’t want them to forget where they came from,” Whipple said after the team’s first practice. “New administration, they just start from scratch.”

He added: “You have to earn everything – first team, second team, it doesn’t matter. Nameless, faceless and we get to earn them.”

Along with their blank jerseys, UMass donned just helmets and shorts in what was mostly a day of basic run-throughs, according to Minutemen quarterback Blake Frohnapfel.

“Our first day plays are really just our basic plays to make sure we know the tempo, that guys are lining up right and to minimize mistakes,” Frohnapfel said. “I’d say we did a pretty good job of that to make sure we were efficient and on the same page.”

Frohnapfel’s situation marks one of the biggest changes in atmosphere from last year’s fall camp opening for UMass, where the Marshall transfer competed for and ultimately won the starting job under center before finishing the season 21st in passing yards (3,345) within the FBS.

This year, Frohnapfel said he approaches the season with increased confidence that has allowed him to embrace more of a leadership role as a fifth-year senior.

“Last year, I was worried about myself more. Now I’m talking to (receivers) Tajae (Sharpe) or Shakur (Nesmith) like, ‘Hey guys, run this route, do this,’ instead of just worrying about myself,” Frohnapfel said. “That was kind of the big thing that makes you be more of a coordinator instead of just a quarterback.”

Coming off a right leg injury that held him out of UMass’ final two games in 2015, Frohnapfel said he is completely healthy and without any setbacks.

“It was an unfortunate injury but going through the spring with my rehab with the training staff, I’m ready to go and excited,” he said. “Everything went smooth. It was a long process but it’s one of those things where it happens, you can’t do much about it and you just have to try to get better from it.”

Santos-Knox eyes return to Detroit

Senior linebacker Jovan Santos-Knox joined Whipple and Frohnapfel at the 2015 Mid-American Conference media day in July at the home of the MAC championship game, Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan. Despite being picked to finish fourth in the preseason MAC East media poll that day, Santos-Knox said returning to the site at the end of the year is the Minutemen’s one common goal.

“We want to be back in Detroit and to a bowl game,” Santos-Knox said. “Everyone has the same mindset, there’s no doubt in anyone’s mind. I think everyone’s going to keep rolling.”

According to Santos-Knox, Monday’s first practice was a positive first step toward this objective, as he said the excitement for the upcoming season was “off the charts” and on a different level than his previous three years.

He added that the comfort level within Whipple’s 3-4 defense is noticeably better in the system’s second year and that communication among personnel has been the biggest difference from the beginning of last year.

“I know what I’m doing out there. I know all the positions out there and what everyone is doing. It’s easier for me because it’s making me play faster and I can see my reads a lot quicker,” Santos-Knox said. “That goes for a lot of guys, I look to my left or right and I see Randall Jette coaching the safeties and he’s a corner.

“It just goes to show you how comfortable everyone is in their position.”

If it was up to Santos-Knox, the 2015-16 season couldn’t come soon enough against Colorado, a team that overcame an 11-point second half deficit in a win against the Minutemen in last year’s 41-38 shootout at Gillette Stadium.

“I wish it was tomorrow, but we have a lot to improve on,” he said. “We definitely need the time to prepare for them. They’re 10 days ahead of us so I think we are really going to have to prepare and get the best we possibly can in this camp so we can go out and take them.”

UMass travels to face the Buffs Sept. 12 in Boulder, Colorado.

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

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