UMass football officially inks six freshmen on national signing day

Ahmad Haston leads small but promising 2023 class

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Sophie-Zoe Schreyer/ Daily Collegian (2022)

By Colin McCarthy, Video Editor

Wednesday, Dec. 21 marked national signing day for high school football players across the country, and with that, the Massachusetts football team officially confirmed six players from the class of 2023 that join the Minutemen this cycle.

Quarterback Ahmad Haston leads the group that also includes linebacker Jyree Roberts, pass rusher Donovan Dyson, viper Christian LeBrun and a pair of offensive linemen, Peyton Miller and Zachary Anderson.

UMass coach Don Brown would like to add more freshmen to his recruiting class, if possible, but with how young of a team the Minutemen were last season, his coaching staff is putting a greater emphasis on recruiting from the transfer portal. Brown has nine transfer portal commitments currently, four of which from Arizona, where he was defensive coordinator in 2021. None of the portal players were officially signed at the time media talked to Brown, meaning he couldn’t discuss them.

“We’re trying to stay developmental with a certain number of players, but we had to get older,” Brown said. “That was my feeling is that we needed to get older and we’ve done that.”

Two things that Brown looks at across the board when evaluating high school athletes are speed and versatility. He joked about his time as a two-sport athlete in college, and how much he values players that have the competitive edge and desire to play multiple sports at a high level. But he also wants his teams to play fast, regardless of position.

“We’re looking for the athletic part, guys that can run,” Brown said. “We’ll sacrifice a little bit of size for movement skills, that’s just the style that we play, and I think all six of these guys do that.”

Wednesday provided Brown an opportunity to articulate in detail what he sees in his freshman class, as well as why he brought in those players specifically.

Ahmad Haston

Haston generated more buzz online than any other recruit in the Minutemen’s 2023 class, and it’s no surprise why. Haston is a talented quarterback with immense potential, and UMass is a team in dire need of a quarterback.

The Palm Beach, Flo. product is listed at 6-foot-3 inches and 195 pounds, so he already has the body of a college athlete. Brown is impressed by Haston’s potential as well as his competitive edge.

“He had 2100 yards passing and 500 yards rushing, the number that jumps out at me is the 50 touchdowns, that’s a lot,” Brown said. “14 touchdowns in the playoffs just shows how clutch he is as a player … he’s really the complete package and I’m very excited about having him join our class and lead our offense in the future.”

The hype around Haston is understandable, but he may not make an immediate impact for the Minutemen. His role in 2023 will depend heavily on how quickly he learns and grows once he steps foot on campus, as well as what the quarterback room looks like around him.

“It’s a hard thing to project, we’ll know real quick once we get our hands on him and he’s working in the classroom and on the field,” Brown said. “All the preset marks are there that he can do this, but you still want to put your hands on him and see how that goes, because that’s certainly a huge undertaking to come in and have that role right away.”

Donovan Dyson

It’s never a bad thing to have your game compared to a budding NFL star, and that’s the position Donovan Dyson is currently in. His physical attributes and play style remind Don Brown of Josh Uche, another one of his former recruits and currently a key cog in the New England Patriots defense.

“Donovan Dyson is a lean pass rusher, a guy that can play multiple positions,” Brown said. “This guy can rush the passer from different areas, his first step is very sudden and he’s just a great young man.”

Dyson is listed as a Sam linebacker internally and will likely play in different spots on the field situationally, especially as he develops at UMass. He is a 6-foot-2 inch, 215 pound defender that specializes in rushing the passer, and Brown is hoping to increase his versatility and turn Dyson into a complete linebacker during his time in Amherst.

Jyree Roberts

Jyree Roberts provides even more linebacker depth for the Minutemen, and at 6-foot-1 inch and 225 pounds, Brown likes the size and athleticism he brings to the table. But that isn’t the only reason the Erie, Penn. native was on Brown’s radar; a strong family connection helped bring Roberts to Amherst.

“His brother played for me at Arizona, I know his dad well, he’s been involved in the recruiting process of his sons, so that’s been a good thing,” Brown said.

Roberts and Dyson will have plenty of time to grow into a dominant inside-outside duo at linebacker for the Minutemen.

Christian LeBrun

Tanner Davis was one of the more notable UMass players to put his name into the transfer portal this season, but Christian LeBrun’s presence at Viper will help take the sting out of that loss defensively.

“He really fits the bill at the viper position,” Brown said of LeBrun. “He’s a guy that can blitz, he’s a guy that can cover the tight ends, good tackler, has linebacker mentality with defensive back versatility.”

LeBrun in six feet tall, weighs over 200 pounds and brings a lot of similar attributes to the viper position as Davis. He’ll pair well with Michael Oppong, who is more of a coverage safety that specialized in third down sets last season.

Peyton Miller

Don Brown sees a lot of potential in both of the offensive linemen he recruited from the class of 2023, but Peyton Miller is especially intriguing given his versatility. Miller could have been recruited as an offensive or defensive lineman, but Brown is excited about his potential on the offensive side of the ball specifically.

“He can end up playing both, I think that’s a good thing, we took [Josh] Atwood who was a nose guard and made him a center,” Brown said. “Our feeling is he could be a heck of an interior offensive lineman, we love his demeanor, we love his toughness.”

Though he’s plenty capable of playing defense, expect to see Miller only on the offensive side of the ball once he arrives in Amherst.

“I think he’s got flexibility, I think he can play all five positions, and I think I’d have to fight [offensive line coach] Alex Miller if I tried to pull him out of his room,” Brown said.

Zachary Anderson

Right up there with Miller is Zachary Anderson, who is also viewed by UMass as a player who can plug a few different holes in the offensive line. At 6-foot-2 inches and 280 pounds, Anderson is the smaller of the two lineman recruits, but he can move around the field fairly quickly for his size.

“I think both [Miller and Anderson] are athletic guys that are versatile that can play across the board,” Brown said.

Brown is still figuring out who, if any, of the freshman class will enroll early at UMass and be available in the spring, but he has high expectations for all the newcomers whenever they arrive.

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