Thursday, September 04, 2014
AMHERST — Blake Frohnapfel had no guarantees when he decided to transfer to UMass.
Stuck behind Conference USA MVP quarterback Rakeem Cato at Marshall, Frohnapfel just wanted a legitimate opportunity to compete to be a starter.
After a competitive battle with incumbent junior A.J. Doyle, Frohnapfel has made the most of his opportunity. Barring injury between now and Aug. 30, Whipple announced that Frohnapfel, also a junior, will be the starter when UMass hosts Boston College at 3 p.m. at Gillette Stadium.
“Fro will be the starter,” Whipple said. “He just played a little bit better. A.J. played well. Fro just made some better decisions and at times threw the ball a little bit better. I feel good about that position.”
Frohnapfel, who was soaked after completing the Ice Bucket Challenge at Monday’s morning practice, said he was pleased to be called on.
“It feels pretty good. Over the course of my college career I’ve really hoped for this,” he said. “I’m really excited to start my first college game.”
Whipple met with Frohnapfel one-on-one to give him the news.
“He said, ‘This is your team. Embrace it. Start to lead these guys. We have a big game coming up,’” Frohnapfel said.
Frohnapfel, a 6-foot-6, 225-pound native of Stafford, Virginia, is eligible right away because he competed his undergraduate degree in three years at Marshall. He redshirted his freshman year there giving him two years of eligibility at UMass. He becomes the third transfer from a Division I program to become a starter at quarterback for the Minutemen following Jeff Krohn (Arizona State) and Kellen Pagel (Bowling Green).
This is the third straight season Doyle has lost a quarterback competition in preseason. In 2012, Mike Wegzyn started most of the year before Doyle started the season’s final game as a true freshman. Wegzyn won the job again in 2013, but was ineffective and Doyle took over the job halfway through UMass’ September loss to Maine. Doyle has a redshirt year still available if Whipple wanted to save him to potentially be the starter in 2016. Doyle pledged to stay prepared despite not being chosen this year.
“It was Coach Whipple’s decision,” Doyle said. “He has to do what’s best for the team. Fro competed well. Anything could happen. Fro could go the entire season or Fro could go one play. You obviously don’t hope something like that happens, but it’s a real possibility. I have to prepare and do what I can to be ready when my name is called.”
Doyle, who originally committed to North Carolina State as a linebacker, said he was committed to playing quarterback.
“There’s no reason this would scare me away from playing quarterback,” he said.
Redshirt freshmen Austin Whipple would likely be the No. 3 quarterback.
UMass quarterback coach Liam Coen liked what the offense could be with Frohnapfel at the controls.
“With Blake you call a play and you know you’re generally going to get a completion with him,” Coen said. “He’s going to make the right decision, find the check down. He’s going to put you in position to be successful. He does a really good job getting the ball out of his hands. ... He’s still learning and he needs to continue to get better as we move forward, but you know the ball is going to come out when it supposed to come out. He gives you confidence as a coach and play caller.”
It wasn’t easy for Frohnapfel to leave Marshall. For starters, it meant for the first time in his football career that he and his twin brother Eric, a receiver for the Thundering Herd, would no longer be teammates. Plus, Marshall is not only the favorite in Conference USA, but Sports Illustrated listed the Herd among the teams most likely to go undefeated and, therefore, potentially earn a spot in the first ever college football playoffs. But a big reason for those high expectations is starting quarterback Rakeem Cato, who is on pace to become Marshall’s leading passer.
Frohnapfel played well filling in for an injured Cato or when the score was out of reach each of the past two years, which only increased his hunger to become a starter.
“The times I played, I thought I played pretty well,” said Frohnapfel, who completed 17 of 22 passes for 206 yards, three TDs and one interception last year. “Having a guy like Rakeem Cato there breaking records is a tough situation. You think no matter what you do, it’s tough unseat him. You’re basically waiting for an injury, which you never want to happen. I only had a small handful of chances to play. I knew I was a very capable player. I could perform in the offense there. As I was getting older and older I knew I was running out of years of football. I felt personally, it was better for me to look elsewhere to find a chance to play.”
Frohnapfel was looking for not only a chance to start at his next school, but opportunities beyond the football field.
“When I was looking at schools, I made a list of schools that had quarterback turnover or issues from the year before or had a great business school. It was a small list,” he said. “But the chance to go to the Isenberg School of Management was a really big selling point for me coming here. It’s a great school, nationally recognized. Outside of football, I could build a better professional network on the business side of things. Not all of us are going professional in football. I had to find a way to increase my value in other ways.”
But before he goes pro in anything, he wants to make an impact at UMass.
“The past two years have been tough for the UMass football program. I want to help change the culture around here and help recreated that winning tradition they had in the past,” he said. “The attitude around here is very positive. This team enjoys being together.”
While he’s developed chemistry with his new receivers, it’s still felt unusual not to see his brother in the huddle.
“It’s weird not having him here, From peewee through high school and college I’ve always had him there. Not having him here is kind of weird. I’ve always had someone to fall back on, on and off the field,” said Frohnapfel, who plans to watch as many Herd games on TV as he can. “Whenever I get a chance to watch them I’ll try to watch them. Whenever I can watch my brother I’ll enjoy doing that. With the team they have and the way the schedule is set up, they have a chance to run the table. They can crash the playoff party. If they stay healthy and beat the teams they should, that team could do something special. But I have not regretted the decision once. I hope they do, do that. I’ll always be a fan of Marshall. I’m a Marshall alum. But I’ll never regret this decision.”
Minutemen junior wide receiver Tajae Sharpe said Frohnapfel impressed his teammates as soon as he arrive in June.
“He wanted to win,” he said. “He wanted to get out of the field and throw as soon as possible so we could get everything going.”
NOTES — Whipple confirmed a Masslive report that sophomore running back Drew Harris, who joined UMass this summer, has left the team. Sophomore running back Lorenzo Woodley remains sideline with an ankle injury. Returning offensive lineman Michael Boland has switched his jersey to No. 69, while kicker Blake Lucas is now No. 23.
The Minutemen are practicing at Gillette on Wednesday and will scrimmage on Thursday at McGuirk Stadium. The scrimmage will mark the end of training camp.
Matt Vautour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage