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

Isaac Ross and Michael Oppong are coming into their own late in the season

Both Minutemen are taking on larger roles on the field
Dylan Nguyen/ Daily Collegian (2022)

Every time Isaac Ross steps on the field for the Massachusetts football team, there’s a chance for him to make an explosive play.

No. 83 started the season as nothing more than a fast special teams player, but he’s earning more playing time late in the season as he builds trust with the Minutemen (1-10) coaching staff. He isn’t the only person making a strong impression late in the season.

Both Ross and Michael Oppong are specialists. They have specific capabilities on the football field, and some limitations as well. Ross specialized in kick returning, and Oppong is a viper whose strength lies in the passing game. As they’re getting comfortable with Brown’s system, though, those roles are expanding.

Ross turned into one of UMass’ top receiving threats over the last three weeks, where he has 11 receptions for 118 yards. He also has one 17 yard rush in that timespan.

“What he’s doing is awesome,” UMass coach Don Brown said of Ross. “Here’s a guy, dominative in stature, not the biggest guy in the world but does have great hands … he’s a special teams performer. This is a guy that we can do a number of things with, and as he grows as a player, his role will just become magnified.”

Ross’ speed always stuck out at practice, even in the summer before the start of the season. As the weeks went on, he turned his raw talent into refined skills that add to the Minutemen’s overall offensive skillset. He motions in and out of the backfield, catches screen passes and runs routes downfield along with his usual duties as a punt returner.

“He’s just continued to work hard, do the right things, make an impact on the offense,” Brown said. “It started to show up in practice where you go, ‘yeah, this guy is pretty good,’ and now it’s translated to the games as well.”

Oppong had a similar path to Ross in terms of his development in-season, only he did it on the other side of the football. The redshirt sophomore began the season as a pure pass-coverage specialist, a role he has filled well in the UMass defense. But in recent games, his physicality began to blossom.

Against UConn, Oppong registered seven total tackles, two solo and five assisted. That lone game accounted for half of his total tackles on the year. The culmination of his improvement came against Texas A&M, where he forced his first turnover of the season. Despite his notoriety in coverage, that turnover came by way of a forced fumble, not an interception, which speaks to his growth over the course of the year.

“[Oppong] has developed, he’s taken his game [to another level],” Brown said. “He has a couple things that are his specialty and we’ve been sharing the workload at the viper position.”

Oppong and Tanner Davis split time at viper and are becoming a valuable one-two punch at the position for UMass because of their varying skillsets. That said, both of them are becoming more rounded players as the season progresses.

“[Davis] is a little more physical, a little bit better in the run game,” Brown said. “[Oppong] has been a nice compliment in the pass game and when we play some of our third down specialized stuff, that kind of suits him.”

Oppong and Ross are two prime examples of Brown getting in the players he wants and putting them in a position to succeed based on what they do well. He doesn’t try and force players to fit a role that doesn’t suit them well. He evaluates talent and builds around it, and that method has worked out well in getting the most out of his lineup.

“I tell the guys all the time, the things that you do well, we’ll let you do well,” Brown said. “The things that you still need work on, well we continue to work on them, but that doesn’t mean you can’t help our football team.”

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

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