UMass football’s running game will be more than Ellis Merriweather

  • UMass running backs coach Damian Mincey points out the finer points of a defense to Ellis Merriweather during spring football practice Thursday in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/KYLE GRABOWSKI

  • UMass running backs coach Damian Mincey observes Ellis Merriweather running through a drill at spring football practice Thursday in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/KYLE GRABOWSKI

Staff Writer
Published: 4/14/2022 3:44:05 PM
Modified: 4/14/2022 3:42:56 PM

AMHERST – Ellis Merriweather became the UMass football team’s offense down the stretch last season. The junior running back averaged more than 24 carries per game over the final seven contests, rushing the ball more than 30 times on two occasions. Granted, he gained at least 100 yards in six of those seven games and broke 150 twice, but running the ball will be less of a one-man operation for the Minutemen in the fall.

“As much as Ellis would probably want to carry the ball every time the ball is carried, through a 12-game season, that’s impossible,” new UMass running backs coach Damian Mincey said. “You can’t have one running back. Take the load off.”

Merriweather was the load last season. He gained 1,138 yards on the ground (31st nationally) on 218 carries (tied 25th). UMass also didn’t have much of a choice. Rutgers transfer Kay’Ron Adams only played four games due to injuries. Converted wide receiver Carter Scudo filled in admirably. But the cupboard looked bare.

That won’t be the case this fall.

“I’m telling you, we got some dogs in this room,” Merriweather said.

Louisville transfer Greg Desrosiers has already made an impact and showed his burst during spring practice. Cyrus Bonsu has developed after a year in a college weight room. Incoming freshman Donta Whack could also make an impact once he arrives on campus.

“They all are athletic. It’s a toughness thing for me, and all of our guys are showing that,” Mincey said. “It’s not just running with the ball. You gotta be blocking for the quarterback. Everyone’s adopted that, being tough and being physical and high energy.”

Despite the rotation, there won’t be specific passing down backs or running down backs. They’re all going to function in all aspects of the offense.

“We don’t want to have a specialist guy,” Mincey said. “We want to have guys that can do it all. I tell the guys, ‘I don’t want to have to take you out of the game because you can’t do this.’ Learn how to do it and be productive.”

And Mincey is happy to teach. It’s his second time back with the Minutemen after spending 2006-11 on the staff coaching everything from linebackers to tight ends and special teams. It was his first coaching job at the college level.

“When Coach Brown came back and offered me the opportunity, I jumped at it,” Mincey said. “It was a second home. I always wanted to come back.”

He has a willing pupil in Merriweather, who regularly takes extra reps in drills and discusses defensive reads with Mincey and other coaches on the sideline.

“When guys are productive, those are the guys that get looked to on the football team. Guys look to him because they know that he’s done it and they want to mock how he’s done it and see how he’s done it,” Mincey said. “Guys will follow you when you do good things. He’s taken a tough role, a hard role, but a role that is for people who really want to do it.”

Merriweather doesn’t know any other way.

“That’s just who I am. They tell me I’m a natural leader, and I just go out there and try and put my best effort out,” he said. “I lead by example. Simple as that.”

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

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