UMass football notebook: Annual pro day set for Thursday; Minutemen shake up coaching staff

By Andrew Cyr

Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian)
(Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian)

After impressing scouts at both the East-West Shrine Game and last month’s NFL draft combine, Massachusetts wide receiver Tajae Sharpe will have one final chance to impress this Thursday at UMass’ annual pro day.

Sharpe, who finished the 2015 season with a FBS-best 111 receptions and 9.3 receptions per game, finished his career with the Minutemen with 277 receptions, 3,486 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns. His receptions and receiving yards are the most in UMass program history while his touchdown receptions are tied for third.

Despite having some of the smallest hands (8.375 inches) among wide receiver prospects, Sharpe is projected to be a fourth or fifth round pick according to

ESPN Insider ranks Sharpe with above average ball skills, stating that he has quality hand-eye coordination and that his film did not relieve any “alarming drops”. The world wide leader also ranks Sharpe with average separation skills and competitiveness, and below average in big play ability due to his lack of size and open-field speed.

Other names to keep an eye out for at UMass’ pro day are quarterback Blake Frohnapfel and linebacker Jovan Santos-Knox. Frohnapfel is the 23rd-ranked quarterback prospect according to, but his size (6-foot-6, 238 pounds) and time spent in Minutemen head coach Mark Whipple’s pro-style offense is something that scouts have taken note on.

A full list of players participating is expected within the coming days.

Unlike previous years, media won’t be allowed into the weight room to record measurements, bench press and jump. In addition, only NFL personnel, players and Minutemen coaches and personnel are allowed onto the field to record times for on-field drills.

UMass makes coaching changes

After the Washington Redskins announced the hiring of former offensive line coach Shane Waldron as its new offensive quality control coach, UMass has found his replacement.

UMass has hired long-time Connecticut offensive line coach Mike Foley to fill the same position. In addition to Foley, the Minutemen also welcome Jason Palermo as their new tight ends coach.

Foley began coaching at UConn in 2006, where he was named offensive line coach. Foley held that position until the 2012 season when he switched to tight end coach from ’12 and the first four games of the 2013 season. He went back to coaching UConn’s offensive line until 2014, before being released following the season.

In his final season with the Huskies, they had the third-worst total offense in the country with an average of 276 yards per game while scoring the fifth-worst points per game in the NCAA with 15.5.

Foley coached UConn in 2011 when it appeared in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.

Palermo joins the UMass coaching staff after spending the past four seasons (2012-15) at Austin Peay State University as its offensive line coach.

Palermo was a three-year letter winner as an offensive lineman for Wisconsin and had stints with both the Minnesota Vikings and Atlanta Falcons. He began his coaching career at Nebraska-Omaha in 2009 before coaching tight ends in 2010 and 2011 at Southern University.

Sollazzo no longer with Minutemen

Former defensive line coach and assistant head coach Dave Sollazzo is no longer with the Minutemen.

Sollazzo was the only coach on the UMass staff that had been with the Minutemen since their initial jump to the football bowl subdivision in 2012. He was both the defensive line and assistant head coach under former head coach Charley Molnar, and following his departure, no former Molnar coaches are currently on Mark Whipple’s staff.

In his four years at UMass, the Minutemen went a combined 8-40, having 1-11 records the two years under Molnar and were 3-9 both years Whipple was head coach.

UMass ranked 103rd out of 128 teams in total defense last year, allowing 447.8 yard per game, ahead of only Ball State and Eastern Michigan in the Mid American Conference – the Minutemen are now independent and no longer members of the MAC.

UMass allowed 31.4 points per game last season, the lowest during his time as the Minutemen allowed 33.0 ppg in 2014 and 2013, while allowing 40.2 in the inaugural 2012 season. They also had one of the worst red zone defenses in the country, allowing scores on 49-of-55 opponents trips.

Prior to joining the UMass staff, he made coaching stops at Villanova, Maryland, Georgia Tech, The Citadel and Guilford College. Sollazzo has been coaching since 1984, where he was a graduate assistant with the Terrapins.

Andrew Cyr can be reached at [email protected], and followed on Twitter @Andrew_Cyr.