Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Andy Isabella finds his niche within the UMass football offense

By Adam Aucoin

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(Jediah Zuraw-Friedlan/Collegian)

(Jediah Zuraw-Friedlan/Collegian)

Massachusetts football wide receiver Andy Isabella will never be confused for the tallest guy on the field.

Standing at 5-foot-9 and weighing 186 pounds, it’s easy to lose the sophomore when he’s surrounded by guys in the huddle like quarterback Andrew Ford, tight end Adam Breneman and fellow wide receiver Jalen Williams, who all are well over 6 feet tall.

Despite his small stature, Isabella is focused on making an impact and he has done just that thus far during the 2016 season.

It didn’t take long for Isabella to show what he could do. Midway through the second quarter against the highly-vaunted Florida Gators secondary, the speedy receiver broke away and used his quickness to haul in a 53-yard reception from quarterback Ross Comis. It was in that instant that people caught a glimpse of the potential Isabella has.

Since that day in Gainesville, Isabella’s production has remained consistent for the Minutemen. The Mayfield, Ohio native ranks second on the team in receptions (18), trailing only Breneman (21), and leads the team in receiving yards (265).

Coming off a freshman season where he hauled in just two catches in 10 games, the uptick in his play has been quite apparent.

Isabella put in the work to make the change in his play.

“I was a little injured in the spring, but I worked really hard this summer,” Isabella said. “We put in like six hours a day every day, so that’s really what has led to my success on the field this season.”

UMass (1-3) coach Mark Whipple has been impressed with the improvement he has seen so far in Isabella this season.

“He’s shown that he can be explosive and I think he’s catching the ball in traffic a lot better,” Whipple said. “He’s a smart guy. Andrew feels good with him and Ross feels good with him. He’s a guy in the plans to get the ball.”

Speed has always been Isabella’s biggest asset and he has used it to perfection for the Minutemen during their first four games. He knows that his quickness is something his coaches want him to use and opposing defenses are keying in on, but he believes his play has expanded beyond that natural skill.

“When I first came in all I had was my speed, so that’s really what I used to get open,” Isabella said. “Now, I really learned how to work my routes better and I think that has helped with my speed and help me get open to make plays for our offense.”

Isabella has had to get used to two different guys throwing him the ball. Comis started the first two games against Florida and Boston College and Isabella caught six passes in those games. Ford started the Florida International and Mississippi State games and Isabella caught 12 passes over that stretch. No matter the signal caller, it’s important they have trust in their receivers and Isabella has proven to be a consistent target for both quarterbacks.

Ford has grown comfortable having Isabella in the huddle with him and knows he can count on him to make a big play.

“He’s one of those guys that is really crafty with how he runs his routes and you always know where he’s going to be,” Ford said. “That’s big as a quarterback. It’s all about timing and knowing exactly where he’s going be. He’s a real accountable guy and makes plays.”

UMass will have its work cut out for them if they want to have success in the passing game this week when they take on Tulane (2-2, 0-1 American Athletic Conference) at McGuirk Stadium for Homecoming.

The Green Wave comes in with one of the top passing defenses in college football. Out of 128 Football Bowl Subdivision teams, Tulane sits 18th in passing yards allowed per game, averaging 169 yards per game through the air. The Minutemen rank 70th in that statistic, giving up 231 passing yards per game.

Isabella believes effort will be the key if they want to beat the Green Wave’s tough defense.

“We just have to play as hard as we can,” Isabella said. “Every play come out and hit someone. They’re going to give in at some point.”

Adam Aucoin can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @aaucoin34.

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