Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Homecoming a special weekend for parents of UMass football seniors

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Blake Frohnapfel Judith Gibson-Okunieff/ Daily Collegian

Blake Frohnapfel
Judith Gibson-Okunieff/ Daily Collegian

For most fans in attendance Saturday, the atmosphere surrounding the Massachusetts football team’s 2015 homecoming game wasn’t too different from any previous home game on campus since the Minutemen’s partial return to McGuirk Stadium last year.

Hundreds of fans, young and old, gathered outside the stadium four hours in advance of the game in the parking lots to celebrate with food, beer and games in a typical tailgate atmosphere.

Once the 3:30 p.m. kickoff time approached, the official attendance of 15,217 filed into their respective seats on one of two sides of bleachers within the stadium. With frigid fall temperatures and a penalty-laden, sloppy on-field performance – UMass would lose the game 15-10 to Kent State – a large chunk of the crowd disappeared by the start of the third quarter.

But for some in attendance, Saturday’s game was one of the final opportunities to make it to Amherst to see the Minutemen back on campus and cheer as their sons played in front of the home crowd.

“It’s Blake’s last homecoming. We try to go to every game,” said Lynn Frohnapfel, mother of UMass starting quarterback Blake Frohnapfel. “It brings the campus together, it brings the community together. Look at all these fans, they make it a great experience for old students, new students, the team, everybody.”

Lynn and Steve Frohnapfel, Blake’s father, made roughly a 12-hour trip from their home in Stafford, Virginia to see Blake, a graduate student, play in his second to last game at McGuirk Stadium.

Lynn, a school teacher, said she likes interacting with the UMass student body prior to the game and enjoys the on-campus atmosphere that comes with the game being in Amherst.

“This is only my second time being here in Amherst. Last year for the September game, the first one here (against Bowling Green), it was fun,” Lynn said. “To me, the best part of being here is being with the kids on campus. It’s not just the adults tailgating. It’s fun and makes you feel young.”

Accompanying Lynn and Steve at their tailgating station was Blake’s twin brother Eric, sister Sarah and a handful of other relatives clad in UMass gear.

For Eric, Blake’s former teammate at Marshall before Blake transferred to UMass last year, it was his first time in Amherst seeing his brother play for the Minutemen.

“The school I went to (Marshall) wasn’t as big, there wasn’t as much student involvement, so it’s been really cool,” said Eric, who graduated last year. “I think the crowd will be excited. I’m excited to see the stadium atmosphere.”

While the Frohnapfels tailgated alongside hundreds of other UMass students and alumni, John and Tanya Sharpe, parents of Minutemen senior wide receiver Tajae Sharpe, opted to solely embrace the game experience in their son’s final homecoming.

“We don’t really tailgate,” John said. “We just watch them walk past and we go try to get our tickets and go inside.”

Traveling from Piscataway, New Jersey – roughly a four-hour drive – John and Tanya said they attend every home game, whether UMass plays at McGuirk Stadium or Gillette Stadium in Foxborough. Having been to games at both sites, they noted the difference in the two game day experiences.

“The campus atmosphere is much better,” John said. “There’s more students involved, more tailgating, more fans, it’s definitely more of a college atmosphere here. They need to get all the games here, I think.”

“Plus, you don’t have to sit as long (in the car),” Tanya jokingly added.

John and Tanya witnessed yet another milestone for Tajae Saturday, as his seven receptions for 46 yards in the loss against the Golden Flashes gave him the program record for most career receiving yards. He broke the program mark for most career receptions earlier this season against Temple.

While homecoming weekend for UMass was in large part spoiled by a loss to Mid-American Conference rival Kent State, Lynn maintained that the game was a great opportunity to see her son play and spend time with him following the game, which isn’t usually possible.

“It’s worth it because I get to see him after the game too,” Lynn said. “We get to see him after, we get to see him in the morning before we go home. This is really special and it’s a great place to be.”

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

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