‘Unselfish’ receiver play propelling UMass football ahead of matchup with Florida International

Stats don’t show all for the Minutemen

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‘Unselfish’ receiver play propelling UMass football ahead of matchup with Florida International

(Parker Peters/Daily Collegian)

(Parker Peters/Daily Collegian)

(Parker Peters/Daily Collegian)

(Parker Peters/Daily Collegian)

By Dan McGee, Assistant Sports Editor

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Last Saturday’s game against Akron saw the Massachusetts football team earn its first victory of the season. Quarterback Michael Curtis shined in his first season debut, throwing for 173 yards and two touchdowns, but much of the credit for the success in the passing game should go to the UMass (1-4) receiving corps.

Samuel Emilus led all receivers against Akron (0-5), reeling in six catches for 70 yards and a touchdown. Senior Sadiq Palmer contributed three catches for 20 yards, including a clutch grab on fourth down in the corner of the endzone to extend the Minuteman lead.

“I thought those guys, especially without the ball, played at a really high level,” coach Walt Bell said. “They’ve played incredibly unselfish. I’m proud of those guys and how hard the play and [wide receivers coach Luke Paschall] has done a really nice job with them.”

While touchdowns, receiving yards and toe-tapping catches on the sideline might stand out most prominently when assessing wide receiver performance, what may fly under the radar is the Minutemen receivers’ effort on every down. Since the coaching turnover in January, Walt Bell, Paschall and their staff have been instilling a team-first culture that can be seen in the receiving corps.

“Whatever my team needs me to do, that’s what I’m here for,” Sadiq Palmer said. “I’m a team guy so whatever position they put me in, I’m going to do it. If I have to block every game, then that’s just what is has to be. It’s not about me, it’s about the team.”

Evidence of the impressive blocking showed on the final possession of the game against Akron. With 5:24 remaining and leading by a score, the Minutemen needed to sustain a drive to kill the clock and claim victory. Bilal Ally lead the Minutemen, racking up 71 rushing yards on the drive, but it couldn’t have been without the help of Palmer and company leading blocks on the outside. Prominently, Palmer set a lead block on Ally’s 26-yard rush on third-and-three to all but secure a UMass victory.

“No matter if we’re on the other side of the field, we play to the whistle,” Palmer said. “We definitely are a selfless group and we’re going to keep building on that. It’s all about effort, which is mainly what coach Paschall harps, just effort.”

Emilius felt the same about the team’s selflessness.

“When you show that type of blocking down the field for your other teammates, that’s how you show love to him basically,” Samuel Emilus said. “That’s what the tape says anyway. Tape don’t lie, so that’s just how you show love.”

While playing an unselfish brand of football is at the forefront of the receiving corps’ minds, they’ve had to build chemistry with not one, not two, but three quarterbacks through five weeks this season. The fluidity at the quarterback position might seem like a challenge for the Minutemen, but the work UMass put in over the summer and early fall has helped them adjust to playing with different quarterbacks. The team cycles between quarterbacks during practice, so that receivers can get a feel for different people throwing the ball.

“We’ve got a brotherly bond,” Palmer said of Michael Curtis. “We hang out all the time outside of football just chilling at each other’s house, going out to eat, stuff like that. We’ve been working all summer with each other, every single day. The chemistry is just there.”

Notably, Michael Curtis feels a connection with his receiving corps.

“Insane chemistry,” Curtis said. “Those guys are like my best friends. Since I got here three years ago, they’ve been my guys 24/7. We spent a lot of long days, long nights, summer mornings, summer nights out here throwing and getting to know each other better and being best friends over the past three years.

“We’re all really, really close. Even that [receiving] group by itself is such a tight knit group that they really play for each other out there. It prides me that I’m not just throwing a pass to a receiver but I’m throwing it to like one of my brothers. That’s big for me.”

The chemistry between Curtis and the receiving corps should show on Saturday against Florida International (1-3). Defensive back Richard Dames is a name to look out for as he leads the Golden Panthers in pass break ups with three this season. No matter the challenge Dames and the rest of the FIU defensive backs present on Saturday, the Minutemen have had the luxury of practicing against tough competition in Isaiah Rodgers.

“We’ve got Isaiah Rodgers over here breaking records,” Palmer said. “We get to see that type of defender every day. He gives us great looks and he’s probably one of the best corners in the nation right now. I’m not really worried about the guys [on FIU] I’m more worried about getting prepared for the game and learning what we need to learn.”

The Minutemen will kick off against Florida International at 7p.m. from Miami, Florida on Saturday.

Dan McGee can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @DMcGeeUMass.