Last UMass spring football practice felt more like fall

  • Jamir Roberts is one of several talented UMass wide receivers that will give the Minutemen options in the passing game. STAFF PHOTO/KYLE GRABOWSKI

  • Head coach Don Brown observes UMass spring football practice at McGuirk Alumni Stadium on Thursday in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/KYLE GRABOWSKI—

  • Head coach Don Brown observes UMass spring football practice at McGuirk Alumni Stadium on Thursday in Amherst.

Staff Writer
Published: 4/28/2022 8:25:02 PM
Modified: 4/28/2022 8:23:34 PM

AMHERST – UMass’ final spring football practice Thursday mirrored the fall conditions it will prepare the Minutemen for.

Temperatures hovered in the high 30s. Wind pushed field goal attempts short as they hung in the air. Some coaches wore beanies to keep warm, while others sported shorts and T-shirts to display toughness in the elements.

“It was a little chillier today, so I felt like it was New England in the fall. My favorite time of year,” UMass coach Don Brown said. “Fall, ball, life is good.”

UMass still hasn’t tackled live all spring and won’t in Saturday’s spring game (noon at McGuirk). That’s by design to lessen the wear and tear on the players’ bodies.

“We’re a little down in a couple numbers. The speed isn’t down, just we’ve taken a little bit of the punishment off their bodies to try and get them the final practice,” Brown said. “Some teams you cannot do that with because the minute you say ‘hey we’re not gonna do...’ the whole speed of it goes. Our guys just keep rolling.”

The spring game will follow a similar scoring system to last season’s in putting the offense against the defense and allowing both sides of the ball to receive credit on the scoreboard for impactful plays that would help win a real football game. The Minutemen will open with their mental walk through and their traditional warm up before kicking off with their “Thunderstruck” two-minute drill for roughly 20 snaps. The AC/DC song will blast through the stadium speakers.

That will be the game’s first “quarter.” The subsequent three quarters will be 15 minutes each of running time offense versus defense.

“I'm gonna be honest, this whole transfer portal thing and all that, you don't know what's gonna jump in. And if you're gonna have a number of guys leave, you got to make sure you keep everybody healthy,” Brown said. “I know how they practice, so I'm not worried about what the speed of it's gonna look like. They'll go, I know they'll go.”

STARTING LINEUP – UMass’ receiving corps has the versatility to fill most any role. Wide receivers coach Ryan Partridge compares them to a basketball starting lineup.

“We’ve got power forwards, we’ve got centers, we’ve got point guards, we’ve got shooting guards and just a lot of different chess pieces we can use between speed and athleticism and length,” he said.

The pass catchers range from 5-foot-9 Jermaine “OC” Johnson to 6-foot-6 Michael Fitzgerald. The Minutemen return 10 receivers from last year’s stable. Rico Arnold, an NC State transfer last season, led UMass with 27 catches for 461 yards and three touchdowns. Only three receivers caught scoring passes in 2021.

UMass also added two experienced transfers: Michigan’s George Johnson III and Isaiah Holiness from San Jose State. Johnson played sparingly at defensive back for the Wolverines. He was a quarterback in high school.

Holiness made five catches for 35 yards in eight games last year for the Spartans.

“Each of us as an individual, we all have our individual talent in a way that we can take bits and pieces from each and everybody where we can also incorporate it into our game and better reach other,” OC Johnson said.

OC Johnson is one of the few veterans in the group that has been at UMass for his entire career. He sees it as part of his role to help the new and younger players adjust and improve.

“I’ve seen a lot being here since my freshman year just being thrown in the fire, not being able to actually receive that type of older guy ownership and leadership,” he said. “That’s what I take as my role with the young guys. I want to put them in any situation possible to be ready.”

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

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