Florida State transfer Marcus Cushnie brings ACC experience, swagger to UMass football

  • UMass defensive lineman Marcus Cushnie explodes through a drill at McGuirk Alumni Stadium during a fall camp practice Tuesday in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO / KYLE GRABOWSKI

  • UMass defensive lineman Marcus Cushnie explodes through a drill at McGuirk Alumni Stadium during a fall camp practice Tuesday in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO / KYLE GRABOWSKI

Staff Writer
Published: 8/9/2022 8:37:20 PM
Modified: 8/9/2022 8:34:03 PM

AMHERST — Marcus Cushnie spent barely an hour in the transfer portal.

UMass coach Don Brown called him shortly after he entered seeking a new home for his final year of college football. It was Brown’s first conversation with the former Florida State and Alabama A&M defensive end, but that proved enough to bring him to Amherst.

“I’ve been in college for five years, so this is just the best shot I had to go to (the) league. I’m just going I’m running with it. Don Brown provided me a great opportunity here, and I just believe in him,” Cushnie said. “I had a lot of faith in him.”

Cushnie spent three seasons at Alabama A&M before transferring to Florida State last year. The West Palm Beach, Fla., native appeared in all 12 games for the Seminoles last season. He accumulated three tackles and 1½ sacks in a backup role behind ACC Defensive Player of the Year Jermaine Johnson. The New York Jets selected Johnson with the No. 26 overall pick in the NFL Draft.

“Whatever he was doing, I was always asking the question. I got to gel with him a lot and pick up a lot of pointers,” Cushnie said.

He flashed some of those tips against UMass on Oct. 23 in Tallahassee with two tackles and 1½ sacks. The former Seminole remembers facing lineman Max Longman and trying to tackle Ellis Merriweather. Cushnie also had friends from high school in Florida on the roster like Uchenna Ezewike. There are 15 Sunshine State natives on UMass’ roster.

“It’s not too much of a difference. We’ve just got to be more attentive to detail, more physical,” Cushnie said. “I think this team got just as much potential as I did at my last school.”

Cushnie continued to show his potential in fall camp. He overcomes a lack of height (listed at 6-foot-2) with speed, instinct and technique. Cushnie gets lower than most offensive lineman and can beat them around the edge with leverage or fast hands. He wears a Guardian helmet cover to mitigate the force on his head in camp since his collisions are often violent.

“If I can get off the ball before the o-linemen moves or tackle moves, I can get to the quarterback. I’m just too fast. I tried to base a lot of things on the speed,” Cushnie said. “And honestly, I mean, don’t let this body fool you. I’m pretty strong.”

That strength extends to the sideline, too. Cushnie is among his unit’s and his side of the ball’s most vocal supporters. He hypes up big plays from teammates coming off the field, calls out when the offense is likely to pass and provides constructive criticism when someone errs.

“I think it just comes from age. I’ve just been around so many other guys, and I think so many other people helped me across the way helped me get to where I’m at, so I just like to give back to the other guys,” Cushnie said. “I enjoy practice. I enjoy football. It’s just fun to talk about it with other people.”

That energy has infected the defensive sideline. Fellow transfer Marcus Bradley (Vanderbilt) is part of the hype train, too. It even includes the offense. When they make a great play, the defense salutes them, too.

“We’re trying to be more of a team and celebrate each other. We’re not at all just not offense versus defense,” Ezewike said.

But the defense still wants to make its mark. Defensive ends and tackles regularly cause havoc in team periods under the watchful eye of coaches Ben Albert and Valdamar Brower.

“We brought some great guys. And really, we have some great coaches that’s been leading us into the right direction,” Ezewike said. “And if you notice, we take over practice every day.”

Cushnie has partly led the charge and wants to keep taking over once the season begins Sept. 3 at Tulane. Even if there are fewer fans in the stands than in the ACC, he’s going to put on a show.

“I really doesn’t matter to me who’s watching me as long as I’m on national television, I got a chance to be on the football field,” he said. “I’m just trying to put the best thing on film for coaches to see.”

Kyle Grabowski can be reached at kgrabowski@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @kylegrbwsk.

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