‘I don’t know failure here’: Don Brown eliciting renewed faith in UMass football team

  • JOHNSON STAFF PHOTO / KYLE GRABOWSKI

  • UMass football coach Don Brown speaks at UMass Football media day at McGuirk Alumni Stadium in Amherst on Thursday. The Minutemen open fall camp Friday and begin the 2022 season Sept. 3 at Tulane. STAFF PHOTO / KYLE GRABOWSKI

  • UMass running back Ellis Merriweather speaks at UMass Football media day at McGuirk Alumni Stadium in Amherst on Thursday. The Minutemen open fall camp Friday and begin the 2022 season Sept. 3 at Tulane. STAFF PHOTO / KYLE GRABOWSKI

  • WOODEN STAFF PHOTO / KYLE GRABOWSKI

Staff Writer
Published: 8/4/2022 7:17:37 PM
Modified: 8/5/2022 1:57:16 PM

AMHERST – Only winning two games in his three-year UMass football career gets to Billy Wooden.

The junior experienced victory Sept. 28, 2019, as a freshman against Akron and not again until the Minutemen took down UConn on Oct. 9 – 742 days later.

“It’s a touchy situation, touchy subject. But I just want to win,” he said Thursday at UMass’ media day. “Put aside all the personal gain from it. I’m happy to just win, honestly.”

Only UMass’ longest-tenured players have experienced multiple victories in a season, back in 2018. Each loss wore on redshirt junior tight end Josiah Johnson, maybe more than some of his teammates.

“This was my only offer coming out of high school. I have learned to love this place, and I want to see this place win. Every loss that we had, I try not to be too emotional, but it hurts,” he said. “That was one of our biggest problems in the past. I don’t think it hurt enough people. I see a lot more care and want and need to win.”

People close to Johnson asked him if he was transferring after last season. Johnson wasn’t going anywhere. He loves UMass. The Jacksonville, Fla., native has become a self-described ‘Masshole.’ Meeting Don Brown after the new UMass head coach took over in December cemented his decision.

“The passion he has for the school and how he wants to bring winning back, that’s all I’ve ever wanted to do was see this school win,” Johnson said. “It hasn’t been the easiest. That’s one of the main reasons I’m so excited for this year is I know Coach Brown has that same type of passion to bring winning back. I just want to see winning here.”

Brown knows nothing else. He first arrived in Amherst in 1998 as a defensive coordinator under Mark Whipple following a 2-9 season. UMass won the FCS national championship that year, then returned to the playoffs in 1999 before Brown “lost his brain,” he said, and left for Northeastern. He returned to Amherst from 2004-08 and authored the most successful five-year run in program history, which included a 43-19 record and an appearance in the 2006 FCS national championship game.

“I don’t know failure here. That’s what I’ve been trying to express with them,” Brown said. “You live in the past, you die in the present. You can’t do anything about what’s behind you. There’s enough talent here. We’ve just got to maximize and bring it out of them.”

That, resulting in winning games, plural, would be a start and reasonable goal. Brown has the Minutemen thinking big, however.

“Trying to make and win a bowl game for the first time in program history, obviously you gotta win game by game, but that is also the overarching goal,” Johnson said.

That can only be accomplished by a group that hates losing. From what Johnson has seen, more of his teammates despise losing more than they want to win.

“You can see the drastic chance, there’s more people feeling it now and wanting it now because of him,” Johnson said of Brown. “He’s super passionate, loves this place, is from winning and wants to continue winning.”

Johnson hopes the winning continues at UMass even after he hangs up his helmet.

“I want to help establish more of a culture, a way of doing things here,” he said. “I try to lead with actions. I want to leave behind that will to do the extra stuff, go 110 percent on the field and play for each other rather than yourself. If I’m able to leave that mentality that I play with to the older guys and the younger guys to keep integrating it through, then I’ll feel accomplished and that I helped this program.”

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

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