Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

What to know for UMass’ 2022 National Signing Day

Don Brown and co. get their first recruiting class
Sophie-Zoe Schreyer / Daily Collegian

This National Signing Day for the Massachusetts football team is some of the first steps of what is now an entirely new regime in Amherst. Former Boston College, Michigan and Arizona defensive coordinator Don Brown is back for his second stint as head coach for the Minutemen.

Brown has been recruiting before he returned to campus back in the middle of December and now has 28 players in his 2022 class. In normal years schools are allowed to give out 25 scholarships per class but a Covid-19 exception allows for 32 this year. This is especially helpful for UMass, a team that did not fill the maximum of 85 scholarship players under the previous head coach Walt Bell.

It should be noted that the Minutemen’s football program was in far worse shape when Bell arrived on campus in comparison to what Brown inherited. Bell used last year’s class so that he would be able to have iron sharpen other iron, as scholarship players would have to resort to facing walk-ons due to a lack of consistent talent throughout the entire roster. That doesn’t mean Brown is walking into a gold mine, but he is able to build upon the foundation of Bell’s three previous recruiting classes and will inevitably have more on-field success than Bell.

While the overall class does not look much different than the likes of the previous few recruiting classes, there are a few things of note.

Four spots remain to be used by UMass for this recruiting class, but regardless of offense or defense the final few players coming in will likely possess above average speed.

“On both sides of the ball the number one criteria is we’re looking for guys that can run at their position,” Brown said. “We will sacrifice a little size for speed.”

Linebacker Aaron Alexander signed on National signing day, giving UMass it’s highest ranked incoming freshman this year and it’s highest since 2018 (ratings come from 247 Sports). Marcus Bradley and Tyler Rudolph are both former 4-star recruits that were not given much of a chance at their previous schools (Vanderbilt, Penn State), allowing Brown to sign them to revamp a defense that allowed over 44 points and 500 yards a game last season.

The caliber of defensive players is another level in comparison to prior years, which should not be shocking when looking at the resume of Brown. He was the defensive coordinator when both Boston College and Michigan led the nation in defensive yards allowed and has helped a multitude of players get to the NFL.

“Don Brown is the man,” Bradley said, who was deciding between schools such as Memphis, Boston College, Liberty and UMass.

“When I got on the phone with coach Brown, I was like ‘Damn, that’s a good dude right there.’ I did my homework, he plays defense, he knows what he’s doing… it’s an easy pick for me.”

An identity will soon be formed that looks to prioritize the defensive side of the ball, but the offense still has leaps and bounds after finishing in the bottom-10 in the nation in points and yards per game.

The offense showed hope in the run game last season, but the passing game couldn’t find success in the last two thirds of the season. Brady Olson — a 3-star quarterback prospect in the class of 2021 — will be challenged by 3-star quarterback Chase Brewster. For the first time in several years, there will be multiple 3-star quarterbacks on the roster to raise quarterback competition and for depth purposes in case of injury. Brewster initially committed when Bell was still running the show, citing the ability to relate to the young coaches as a factor of his commitment. When 66-year-old Brown came in, he didn’t have to consider decommitting and moving on elsewhere.

“They ended up getting Don Brown, who I didn’t really hear of before, but I looked up his resume and his stats of being third or fifth in defensive stats almost every year,” Brewster said.

Brewster also has a relationship with recruiting coordinator and tight ends coach Jeff Moore, throwing with one of Moore’s former quarterbacks at Loomis Chaffee, and was impressed with the recruits he was bringing in.

After Kay’Ron Adams went down for the season with an injury in 2021, Ellis Merriweather was the sole scholarship running back on the team. Walk-on Carter Scudo provided a boost when on the field, but Brown still made the initiative to bring in running backs Donta Whack and Tim Baldwin Jr. to give the Minutemen four scholarship running backs for 2022.

Punters don’t tend to draw much attention in recruiting classes, but A.J. Vinatieri is an exception due to his father, Adam Vinatieri, and his legendary NFL career in New England and Indianapolis. Vinatieri’s final four schools included UMass, LSU, Indiana and South Dakota State (his father’s alma mater). UMass was his best opportunity to get the maximum amount of playing time while on a full scholarship offer, which Vinatieri appreciated. It seems all but certain he will spend his time as a punter, and Don Brown clarified that in his National Signing Day press conference when he said, “we got a pretty good punter coming, that’s all I know.”

Joey Aliberti can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @JosephAliberti1.

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