Home is where the huddle is: How three New England-raised football players found their way back home

UMass football’s Taisun Phommachanh, Greg Desrosiers Jr. and Tyler Martin reflect on their football journeys
Daily Collegian (2023)
Daily Collegian (2023)
Kalina Kornacki

Greg Desrosiers Jr. remembers the first time he told his family he was transferring to the Massachusetts football team.

“I just told [my brother Christian] ‘Yo, guess what, you’re going to be able to see me play now.’ He’s been to a game or two at Louisville but I wasn’t even playing … he was definitely happy.”

“It was like a homecoming for real. [Their reaction] was like ‘welcome home’.”

Thousands of college athletes have a similar experience to Desrosiers Jr. every year. After originally deciding to go farther away to play collegiate sports, players’ new homes lose their luster, leading them to transfer back to the town, state or region that they know much better than the non-natives on their new roster. 

Three of UMass’ football players share this experience. Quarterback Taisun Phommachanh, linebacker Tyler Martin and Desrosiers Jr. were all raised in the New England area. 

Phommachanh hails from Bridgeport, Connecticut and spent his high school years at Avon Old Farms, a boarding school with numerous notable alumni. Desrosiers Jr. graduated from the Belmont Hill School outside of Boston, and Martin is an Acton, Massachusetts native. 

Past that similarity, all three players decided in high school to play college football far away from their home region. Phommachanh, hailed by recruiting services as one of the country’s top high school quarterbacks, signed with Clemson in January 2019. Desrosiers Jr. turned down a scholarship offer from nearby Holy Cross to attend Louisville as a walk-on. Martin went the farthest of the bunch, committing to Arizona. 

All three players are now enrolled with the Minutemen and have seen significant playing time at McGuirk Alumni Stadium. Somehow, someway, these New Englanders found themselves back home continuing to play the sport they love. 

“Combining the factors of [having my] family, friends and [being] close to home with the idea of continuing to play for [head coach Don Brown] … having that opportunity was something that I didn’t really think I could pass up,” Martin said. 

“It was definitely a pretty easy decision for me.”

Daily Collegian (2023) (Kalina Kornacki)

For Brown, a Massachusetts native himself, talking to those families was a key tenet as he looked to grab Commonwealth-raised players who were interested in transferring. 

“The interesting thing is, with the portal you’re not allowed to call guys until they’re in the portal,” Brown said. “With a lot of those guys, the thing that was fortunate for me is I was involved with them at some point during their recruiting process … so I have personal relationships with those families … it’ll be interesting to see where [the portal] continues to grow and go.”

Just 18 months ago, the National Collegiate Athletic Association released new transfer legislation that allows any college athlete to transfer once without having to miss a season of play. Since then, the number of transfers in the official NCAA transfer portal for all sports has ballooned. In the cases of the NCAA’s biggest money-makers, football and basketball, there are so many big-name transfers that part of their offseasons resemble a free agency period, as seen in the professional ranks. 

In the NCAA’s 2022 “Student-Athlete Wellbeing Study”, 27 percent of male athletes and 18 percent of female athletes reported that “family or personal reasons” caused them to consider transferring. It was the sixth most popular reason mentioned by athletes. 

It was certainly the reason that Desrosiers Jr. was in his current situation, sitting at a round table in the Football Performance Center on a brisk fall day in western Massachusetts. He answered posed questions with confidence, painting a picture of both the situation at his old school and the benefits he’s gained from being at his new one.

Daily Collegian (2023) (Devin Lippman)

“Just the idea of being close to home was pretty much perfect, so I realized pretty early that deciding to come home was the right fit,” Desrosiers Jr. said. “I remember being at Louisville, I liked being there, I liked the atmosphere, the games, things like that. But [without] having my family and people who I really knew and could talk to, there were times where I was just down.” 

“Being able to play in front of my family and my friends too and the support and love that I get from [coaches], it’s definitely a benefit that I never had at Louisville.”

After barely seeing the field during two seasons with the Cardinals, Desrosiers Jr. decided to look for a new school. The running back mentioned his desire for more playing time at whatever school he chose, which the NCAA survey states is athletes’ third-most popular reason for entering the portal. Eventually, while a group of programs expressed interest, UMass received his commitment. Following the 2021 season, Desrosiers Jr. enrolled and began participating in workouts with his new teammates. 

“[Arriving at UMass] was so weird,” Desrosiers Jr. said. “It was new, but it was exciting because I like new things. So it was exciting just to be a part of it … I looked forward to it for sure.”

Initially, the presence of Ellis Merriweather, the Minutemen’s first player in over a decade to rush for 1,000 yards in a season, prevented Desrosiers Jr. from seeing the field consistently. However, as seasons have gone on, the Lawrence-raised rusher has carved out a sizable role in the UMass offense, scoring five touchdowns across his two seasons in Amherst at the time of writing. 

For Phommachanh, his first transfer took him to Atlanta, not Massachusetts. After three seasons as a backup at Clemson, the signal-caller transferred for the first time in the spring of 2022 and committed to Georgia Tech. However, his chances at being a starting quarterback for the first time since Avon Old Farms eluded him yet again, with the Yellow Jackets’ coaches opting instead to give the spot to Jeff Sims. 

Phommachanh weighed his options, then entered the transfer portal once again this past December. This time, there wasn’t as much attention around his entry, but that didn’t stop Brown from contacting the player he had tried to recruit all those years ago in Bridgeport.

Daily Collegian (2023) (Kalina Kornacki)

The pitch was a successful one as a month later, the former four-star quarterback announced his commitment to the Minutemen. Since then, Phommachanh has battled injuries but has still performed admirably, showing flashes of what made him such a highly touted prospect coming out of high school. 

Brown has made a point of bringing up Phommachanh’s leadership abilities at different press conferences throughout the season, claiming that the quarterback brings a skillset that extends beyond the field. 

“[Phommachanh’s] a special guy,” Brown said. “[His] mom and dad, great people … he’s taken a real leadership role recently. It’s noticeable and it’s effective as well.”

For Brown’s new leader, that just comes with the territory. He was a leader back in Bridgeport too and now steps into a similar role in college just one state over. Some quarterbacks have a natural aptitude for the trait. Phommachanh might be part of that group. 

“I’ve been down south for a couple years now and [it’s] definitely been different but having my family, having guys that are just around the area and just from here, I think that definitely played a real part into me coming back up north,” Phommachanh said. 

For Martin, transferring to UMass represented an opportunity not only to come back to New England, but also to play for Brown, as over the past few years the head coach had seemingly evaded the young linebacker time and time again.

Daily Collegian (2023) (Devin Lippman)

In eighth-grade, Martin was offered a scholarship in 2018 to Michigan, where Brown was defensive coordinator at the time. Martin committed to the Wolverines in the fall of his junior year of high school, but decommitted when Brown left to take the defensive coordinator job at Arizona. A scholarship offer from the Wildcats soon followed, along with a commitment from Martin to the university in September 2021. Two months later, Brown was gone again, this time to Amherst. Martin played out his freshman year in Tucson but entered the portal when the season concluded, where his choice was an easy one. 

“I think the number one thing for me was finding a place closer to home,” Martin said. “It just so happens that Coach Brown was back, you know, where he started back in New England.”

After six years of evasion, the linebacker had finally wrapped up his head coach, and Brown was more than willing to take Martin in as the newest member of his team’s front seven.

“It’s definitely exciting for me to see all these years of relationships and the hypothetical talks that we’ve had really come to fruition this year,” Martin said.

The freshman linebacker has also been hit with the injury bug this season, but with three additional years of eligibility, he could be a major factor for the Minutemen defense in the not-so-distant future. 

While it may not have been their flashiest choice or the school that offered the most resources, all three players made clear that their decision to come back to New England was the right one. In an era where fans and media are so focused on players transferring from smaller schools to bigger ones, stories like Phommachanh’s, Desrosiers Jr.’s and Martin’s show that a big-to-small-school transfer can be just as, if not more, beneficial. 

With New England high school football slowly enriching its talent level, the UMass football teams’ locals are hoping that current prospects see the appeal of staying home for college, something that they themselves never noticed during their own recruiting journeys.

“The culture at UMass is exactly what I want to be a part of,” Martin said. “It’s a struggle, and if you’re not willing to be a part of that struggle to get better, then UMass probably isn’t the place for you.”

“If you don’t really care about the name brand, then there’s really–to me–no place better to go to school if you’re from the northeast, the New England area, then UMass.”

Desrosiers Jr. echoes his teammate’s statement. 

“If you’re from Massachusetts, the love you’re going to get, you’re not going to get that anywhere else if you go away,” Desrosiers Jr. said.

“So staying home and going to a school where people here love you and support you … that’s going to benefit you the most.”

Dean Wendel can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @DeanWende1.

View Comments (1)
More to Discover

Comments (1)

All Massachusetts Daily Collegian Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • J

    Jim WendelNov 17, 2023 at 4:35 pm

    Nice article. It really gives good advice to young talented athletes about making choices
    when deciding where to go following their secondary school years.