Greg Desrosiers Jr. adds to the melting pot of skill in UMass’ backfield

Desrosiers Jr. and Ellis Merriweather are “thunder and lightning”

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Dylan Nguyen/ Daily Collegian (2022)

By Colin McCarthy, Assistant Sports Editor

When Don Brown returned to Amherst to lead the Massachusetts football team again, one of the first people he called to recruit was Greg Desrosiers Jr. As soon as he saw Desrosiers Jr.’s name in the transfer portal, he picked up the phone.

“When he called me, I was still at Louisville,” Desrosiers Jr. said. “I entered the portal, but I still hadn’t even gotten home yet.”

Desrosiers Jr. was a Lawrence, Mass. native and spent his first two years of college at Louisville, but not before a conversation with Brown — who was trying to recruit him to Michigan. It didn’t work out the first time around, but when Brown got a second chance, he didn’t let Desrosiers Jr. slip through the cracks a second time.

“I’ve recruited New England my entire career,” Brown said. “You just hang onto the guys that you remember, so when he was available and in the transfer portal, it couldn’t have worked out better.”

It wasn’t difficult for Brown to get Desrosiers Jr. in the building following that phone call. The speedy running back liked the feeling of being wanted, and specifically the fact that Brown still had faith in him.

“It was nice to see a familiar face, hear a familiar voice,” Desrosiers Jr. said.

Desrosiers Jr. took on the lead in the backfield for Saturday’s game against Liberty following the news that Ellis Merriweather and Tim Baldwin Jr. weren’t able to return from their respective injuries. In his first big opportunity in Amherst, the redshirt freshman didn’t disappoint. He rushed for 110 yards on seven carries and scored two touchdowns.

For as impressive as the game was, Desrosiers Jr. doesn’t want it to be a one-off. He’s ready to prove himself as a viable option alongside Merriweather and Baldwin.

Desrosiers Jr. brings another gear of speed; he was a former track star in high school and is a dangerous runner in the open field. Since coming to Amherst in the spring, though, Desrosiers Jr. has been trying to round out his game. He believes he’s a much more versatile back now, with the ability to run between the tackles as well as lining up in the slot and running routes. He credits a lot of that growth to working with Merriweather every day, and the duo coined a fitting nickname for themselves.

“I’ve learned a lot from him, he’s been a great leader to me,” Desrosiers Jr. said of Merriweather’s impact on him. “We always joke around that we’re like thunder and lightning.”

“He has a lot of experience, so him just teaching me little things on how to put your hands, how to read inside zone,” Desrosiers Jr. said. “The whole running back room, we all help each other.”

Between Kay’Ron Adams, Merriweather, Baldwin Jr. and Desrosiers Jr., the Minutemen’s (1-5) running back room became a melting pot of skills all coming together. Everybody had different sets of skills coming into the season and after spending months together, they combined all their knowledge to make each player a more complete back.

“When we first came together it was like, ‘Greg is that speed guy, can’t really run inside zone; Ellis [Merriweather] is that grinder inside … Tim [Baldwin Jr.] was the speed inside,” Desrosiers Jr. said. “But now I feel like we can do it all.”

Building off each other’s success is important when one or more of the backs is sidelined with an injury. Desrosiers Jr. came to Amherst as more of an outside zone runner. But when he needed to fill the shoes of Merriweather, he was able to. His first career touchdown came on a 53-yard run straight up the middle.

Desrosiers Jr. stepped up to the challenge against the Flames. His preparation in practice made that a reality, and Brown’s commitment to giving everybody practice time helped get him ready for the increased workload. A year ago, Desrosiers Jr. wasn’t being given opportunities to play, and his confidence took a hit as a result. After Saturday, his confidence couldn’t be higher.

“It felt great, it was basically in my eyes my first breakout game in college,” Desrosiers Jr. said. “After scoring that first touchdown, it was like ‘Greg’s back,’ I got my confidence back … being out there that game, it just felt good.”

Colin McCarthy can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @colinmccarth_DC.