Josh Atwood trades defense for offense along UMass football line

  • UMass offensive lineman Josh Atwood, left, works through a drill at McGuirk Alumni Stadium. Atwood played on the defensive line last spring but switched positions prior to this upcoming season. STAFF PHOTO/KYLE GRABOWSKI

Staff Writer
Published: 8/23/2022 4:39:03 PM
Modified: 8/23/2022 4:39:13 PM

AMHERST – Josh Atwood crossed the line of scrimmage but stayed in the trenches.

After two years on the defensive side of the ball, the UMass sophomore switched from defensive tackle to center. UMass coach Don Brown and offensive line coach Alex Miller approached him with the suggestion when spring practice opened. They thought it was best for the team to reallocate his 6-foot-3, 330-pound frame.

“With us being a little more emphasis on the run, we felt we needed some extra juice in the middle,” Miller said. “Josh being Josh, he stepped up to the plate.”

The Minutemen aren’t throwing him in the open ocean without him knowing to swim, though. Atwood played both sides of the line in high school at Natick and was named an all-Massachusetts offensive lineman. Some schools recruited the three-star prospect to play on offense even though he was the highest-rated defensive tackle prospect in the state from the 2020 class.

“It’s not out of the blue for me. I knocked some dust off the skills, but it’s back,” Atwood said. “From the first day in the spring, I felt like I was in the deep end. The game was moving really fast, especially seeing it from the whole other side.”

Defensive linemen only go forward on every play, so Atwood had to adjust to moving forward or backward depending on the call. He relied on his experience, athleticism and his teammates. Being in the offensive line room with Miller and his teammates slowed it down. They welcomed him and taught.

“It's the tightest room I've ever been a part of personally,” Atwood said. “We have a good time in meetings and just like the way we communicate with each other, it's just smooth and it's like natural.”

He settled in and ran out front of fellow lineman Max Longman on a pin pull block that Longman still remembers.

“It was pretty effortless. It was fun getting out there on the edge with him,” Longman said. “We have dinner all the time together. He’s jut one of the dudes, fits right in.”

Atwood also brings a different perspective. He was part of the defense they face every day and uses that knowledge to better his approach offensively.

“I understand blitzes. I understand that everyone's responsible for a gap,” Atwood said. “It allows me to pick up blitzes better because I know who's coming, and it gives me a sort of edge there.”

His biggest change has little to do with splits, stances or first steps. The mentality changes on the other side of the line of scrimmage.

“For defense, it's more of an aggressive in your face sort of mentality,” Atwood said. “On the o-line, it's more of a relaxed, do your job, sort of mind your P's and Q's every day.”

Regardless of where he plays, Atwood keeps in mind that he plays for UMass. Winning overrides everything.

“To have Massachusetts on my jersey – it sounds funny, but as a little kid, it's something you dream of, to represent the state I'm from. I'm gonna be able to play at the highest level possible for my age,” Atwood said. “I couldn't want anything else.”

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

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