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

UMass football starts spring practice ahead of 2024 season

Minutemen showcase new additions alongside veteran players
Jeff Bernstein

The Massachusetts football team began its spring practices on Tuesday, with all players touching the field together for the first time of the year in the bubble adjacent to McGuirk Alumni Stadium.

The first UMass practice had its players doing drills at full speed in pads, getting right back into action, just without tackling. The Minutemen were ready for the challenge after multiple months of preparation prior to Tuesday.

“I think day one helps us because it defined how we’re going to go about our business on the practice field,” head coach Don Brown said. “You’re really looking for energy, guys running to the ball.”

Starting quarterback Taisun Phommachanh didn’t suit up for practice on day one, with Brown wanting to ease him back into play. With the redshirt senior on the sidelines, Ahmad Haston and the rest of the quarterback room got some extra time to showcase their abilities.

Another aspect introduced was the new offensive mind of Shane Montgomery. With a new man at the helm of that side of the ball, players got their first chances to see how the concepts will play out over the course of the season.

“The similarities are, the runs are very similar which I think is a nice transition for our running backs, our blockers at the perimeter, the offensive line,” Brown said of the new offense. “Probably the most important thing is, the quarterbacks got it … the call may be different, but the structure is similar.”

The offense and defense went back and forth at each other throughout each minute of scrimmage time, with both sides making plays on the ball. Dominick Mazotti made a one-handed catch falling to the ground at the end of practice after a couple of balls were batted away by the defense.

The defensive backs had considerable turnover for UMass in the offseason, with multiple players getting their first live reps in the maroon and white. Lake Ellis stood out to the coaching staff with his physicality at the forefront of his success.

“[Ellis is] one of those guys that you’re glad he’s on your team now,” Brown said. “I don’t want to put undue pressure on [Ellis], but I really like the way he’s going about it.”

There are some places to improve on from the 2023 season, and the Minutemen are looking to work on them right out of the gate. After going 3-9 in the previous campaign, UMass looks to make some changes on both sides of the ball.

“On defense, we’ve got to make sure we create more havoc,” Brown said. “If we’re going to play an up-tempo, get-after-it kind of system, which we’re going to, we’ve got to make sure we’re creating havoc.”

“Offensively, we had really good moments a year ago. [We need] consistency and [can’t] turn the ball over. If you take care of the football, and you’re consistent on offense,” Brown continued, “you’ve got a chance every week, regardless of who the opponent is.”

Outside of offense and defense, Brown said that the team acquired a new kicker to headline the special teams unit ahead of the season, who will be announced in the coming days.

With some players entering the portal in the last few days, new roster spots have opened up for UMass to continue to look for talent coming in from other schools. Although the loss of the players will mean teaching new additions the way of the Minutemen, there is hope in the program that change can be a good thing.

“I can’t worry about guys that went in [to the portal],” Brown said. “The portal giveth, and the portal taketh away … It’s happening all over the country, so you can’t worry about it, you just move on.”

With the news of the Minutemen’s move to the MAC in the 2025 season creating a buzz in Amherst, Brown wants to keep his players focused on the upcoming season at hand, without getting ahead of themselves. With three SEC teams along with multiple other highly touted opponents, UMass has a full plate ahead of itself.

“Obviously, it’s a healthy schedule, but it’s also one that I think we’re going to have to make our mark early, and be playing at a quality level early,” Brown said. “That’s going to be important because there’s obviously some great challenges there, but challenges that we should be up for, no question.”

It’s too early to know much about how the team will look in the upcoming season, but the Minutemen will be working to prepare for both the spring game on Saturday, April 27 and their week one contest against Eastern Michigan on Saturday, Aug. 31.

“You feel like a high school guy, in your first practice,” Brown said of how it feels to be back. “It’s just a good feeling to be back out there doing football.”

Mike Maynard can be reached at [email protected] and followed on X @mikecmaynard.

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