Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Home at last: Brice McAllister returns to Western Massachusetts

Redshirt senior transfer Brice McAllister starring for hometown team

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Caroline O'Connor/Collegian

Caroline O'Connor/Collegian

Caroline O'Connor/Collegian

By Ryan Ames, Assistant Sports Editor

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There are impressive debut performances, and then there’s what safety Brice McAllister did in his first game with the Massachusetts football team.

Against Football Championship Subdivision opponent Duquesne on Aug. 25, McAllister dominated on the defensive side of the ball registering two interceptions—returning one 60 yards for a touchdown—made three tackles and forced one fumble from the Dukes.

It was one of a few memorable outings in UMass’ first and only win to date but it also served as a coming out party for the new addition to the Minutemen secondary.

“I expected to play pretty well,” McAllister said. “We had been watching a lot of film that week, we knew a lot of their tendencies, so I expected to have a lot of success that first game. I’m just happy it went the way it did.”

McAllister spent the last four seasons down the road at the University of Connecticut where he played in 33 games for the Huskies. An injury limited him to just three games his senior year in East Hartford, thus salvaging one more year of eligibility to continue his football career.

While unfortunate at the time, his injury opened a unique opportunity that might not have otherwise been available: the chance to play for his hometown team.

“It’s been fun, it’s been fun coming back home, I guess you could say,” McAllister, a native of East Longmeadow, said. “The guys really brought me in here like I’ve been here for four years, it’s already like a family, almost. It’s been a real good experience.”

Redshirt junior Mike Yerardi got the process started for McAllister to finish is career locally. High school teammates at Suffield Academy in Connecticut, Yerardi called his old pal and essentially recruited him to campus.

The 5-foot-11, 195-pounder did say he had other offers from some teams out west and in the south, but the idea of suiting up for the Minutemen was just too good to pass up.

McAllister called it “almost like a match made in heaven.”

“I just really wanted to come home and be able to play in front of my grandparents and parents,” added McAllister. “Like the first game [of the season] I had 20-25 people there, so that was really cool.”

When Ed Pinkham — UMass’ defensive coordinator — heard that McAllister was interested in playing in the Pioneer Valley he jumped at the chance to secure a veteran who also has a tremendous sense for the game.

“We needed a guy who could cover people one-on-one. We play a fair amount of man coverage and so his athletic ability is something that caught our eye right away,” Pinkham said. “He’s mature and every group of guys, whether you’re the defensive backs or the running backs or what not, benefit from someone who has been there a little bit and he has. So his maturity has also helped.

“We talk about having a strong football IQ and he has a football IQ,” Pinkham added. “I often think for defensive guys it’s a question of seeing patterns. When I say patterns, I mean like dot-dot-dash, like when they do this, this happens, so you can see things before they actually occur. He’s one of those guys that has a high football IQ, he can see things before they happen so he can anticipate where he’s supposed to be.”

Those smarts were put on full display in the Minutemen’s big 63-15 win in the opener, and maybe even more importantly, McAllister’s role as an experienced player was almost immediately established.

“They wanted me to come in and be one of those veteran guys, one of the veteran leaders on defense,” McAllister said.

“We have a lot of guys, especially like Jo-Jo Norwood, [he’s] a guy that has just gotten here and this is his first year playing and he needs a mentor,” Pinkham added about the importance of senior leadership. “In between Brice and Tyler Hayes, the two of them have taken him under their wings and [have] done a nice job with him.”

While McAllister’s first game was one to take note of, UMass’ Oct. 27 game against UConn is certainly one the former Husky has circled on his calendar.

“Some of my old friends back at UConn who either graduated and even are still there have called me and asked about it,” McAllister said. “It’s in the back of my head, it’s there.”

So far, the redshirt senior has transitioned pretty seamlessly to the UMass defense as he has been a mainstay on the Minutemen defense in their first three games.

With a 1-2 record, UMass hasn’t exactly thrived on the defensive side, allowing 89 points in its past two games. However, that won’t stop McAllister from expressing some lofty goals.

“We haven’t been to a bowl game in the [Football Bowl Subdivision] era here so that’s definitely, mainly a team goal,” McAllister said. “Personally, just doing what I’ve been doing, keep leading the guys on defense, putting up good numbers and we’ll go from there.”

“I hope to have, between those two senior safeties, I hope to have some continuity at the positions,” Pinkham said, “some experience throughout the rest of the year and some leadership for the rest of the secondary.”

With nine games remaining, the Minutemen — McAllister included — have plenty more chances to try and recapture that magic from the opening game of 2018.

Ryan Ames can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @_RyanAmes.

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