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

Transfers give UMass a much-needed boost in win

New faces across roster help Minutemen start 1-0
Shilpa Sweth
Daily Collegian (2022)

It was a fourth and seven in opponent territory for the Massachusetts football team. Starting quarterback Taisun Phommachanh stepped up, made a man miss and scrambled 26 yards for the first down. Four plays later, Isaiah Rutherford took a Diego Pavia throw all the way back to the end zone, a pick-six that gave UMass a 34-17 lead in the early 4th quarter.

While they gave the Minutemen (1-0) two of their top plays of the night in a 41-30 victory over New Mexico State, neither player had worn a UMass jersey until just a few months ago.

That was a looming theme throughout Saturday night’s contest, as transfers came through in a big way for UMass  during its opening game. Over the offseason, head coach Don Brown brought in 21 players from the transfer portal and quite a few left a mark against the Aggies (0-1).

The main example was at quarterback, where Phommachanh delivered a stellar performance. The former four-star signal caller spent his first three seasons at Clemson as a backup before moving to Georgia Tech in 2022. He wouldn’t win the starting job for the Yellow Jackets, leading him to enter the portal once again and commit to the Minutemen in the offseason.

Getting the start for the first time since his high school days, Phommachanh seized the opportunity, finishing 10-of-17 for 192 yards. More damage was done on the ground though, with the quarterback’s six-foot-four-inch, 215-pound frame proving to be a tall task for New Mexico State defenders. Phommachanh led UMass in both carries and rushing yards, running the ball 17 times for 96 yards with an 11-yard score.

When it comes to other transfers, the Tucson-to-Amherst pipeline was one of the most intriguing storylines of the Minutemen’s offseason. Brown’s one season on staff at Arizona led to eight Wildcats packing their bags this past spring, moving to UMass to rejoin him.

“I didn’t go poach (Arizona head coach) Jedd Fisch’s deal,” Brown said. “But I coached all those guys. And you know, the natural affinity is, when you make a change, sometimes that becomes an important fact.”

Rutherford, a junior defensive back, was one of those eight now-former Wildcats. Originally a Notre Dame commit, the Sacramento native spent the past two seasons as a backup in Tucson before joining the Minutemen.

Linebacker Tyler Martin was another Arizona transfer who excelled Saturday. The Acton, Massachusetts native was recruited by Brown as an eighth grader and has kept a long-standing relationship with the coach. After entering the portal in early December, it didn’t take long for a commitment to come Brown’s way. The redshirt freshman finished the night with four solo tackles.

In the receiving corps, three of UMass’ top five receivers were new transfers, including Christian Wells, who led the team in yards. Wells spent the past four seasons with Appalachian State, where he tallied over 500 yards and 10 touchdowns. While Wells finished with just one catch, it was a meaningful one, as he opened the fourth quarter grabbing a beautifully thrown Phommachanh ball and shaking off a couple Aggies en route to a 68-yard gain.

Other notable receivers for the Minutemen included Stony Brook transfer Shawn Harris Jr. and Arizona transfer Anthony Simpson, who would combine for five catches and 80 receiving yards, with Simpson adding a rushing touchdown. As a member of the Seawolves last season, Harris Jr. played UMass in McGuirk Alumni Stadium, finishing with three receptions for 72 yards.

With the transfer portal comes opportunities for the Minutemen to have more roster turnover in a shorter time span. While this has its drawbacks, when transfers work out, programs across the country have seen their timeline to successful football be drastically shortened. It’s only been one game, but UMass fans are hoping that’s the case for the 2023 Minutemen.

Next up for the new-look roster: away to Auburn. Kickoff will be at 3:30 p.m. on ESPN.

Dean Wendel can be contacted at [email protected] or followed on Twitter @DeanWende1.

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