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UMass counting on veteran experienced offensive line

  • UMass offensive lineman Ray Thomas-Ishman, Sr., left, battles Sean Carter, of Old Dominion, last season at McGuirk Stadium. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • UMass players Jack Driscoll, left, and Jake Largay at practice last spring at McGuirk Stadium. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS



@MattVautourDHG
Monday, April 16, 2018

AMHERST — As his charges went though growing pains a year ago, UMass offensive line coach Mike Foley was optimistic when he looked ahead.

In 2017, the Minutemen’s entire offensive line was young and relatively inexperienced. Foley hoped if it came together and stayed healthy UMass could have a line in 2018 loaded with experience and cohesion.

As practice winds down heading into Friday’s annual spring game, Foley’s hopes are on track. The entire two-deep returns and Foley likes their progress.

“I can definitely see they’ve taken another step. I’m pleased with the way they’re working as a unit. I can see the improvement,” he said. “We’ve started fast. We’ve had growing pains, but I’ve seen good growth.”

Head coach Mark Whipple agreed.

“Playing the same positions, the communication part has gotten a lot better and they’re understanding how it works together,” he said.

Center Derek Dumais returns to anchor the top unit with Jake Largay and Lukas Kolter at left and right guard, respectively, and Ray Thomas-Ishman Sr. and Jack Driscoll and left and right tackle, respectively.

Largay, who’ll be a senior in the fall, said the unit’s confidence has been rising since the midpoint of the 2017 season.

“It’s really clicking. We got a lot of reps,” he said. “As soon as we hit that sixth game mark, (quarterback Andrew) Ford started getting hit less and taking less sacks,” he said. “We just all got on the same page. We knew how to play next to each other.”

The biggest difference is Ray Thomas-Ishman Sr.’s noticeable body transformation. The Philadelphia native is less cheese and more steak as he prepares for his junior season.

After arriving at UMass at about 400 pounds, he’s down to 310, according to Foley.

“I feel like a whole different person. I’m way lighter,” he said. ” I can move quicker. I can go longer.”

Foley said it’s raised the ceiling on the sophomore’s potential.

“He had good feet when he was the size he was at,” he said. “But he’s lost close to 90 pounds over the two years. It’s really helped his athleticism. ”

BOOMER vs. XLERATOR — This year’s edition of celebrity spring game coaches pits the return of ESPN’s Chris Berman to one sideline and former Minuteman kicker Denis Gagnon to the other.

Gagnon, who played from 1969-71, is the CEO of Excel Dryer, the company that invented the XLERATOR, the high-powered hand dryers that have become prominent in public restrooms.

Berman, who has been friends with Whipple since both were students at Brown, coached against men’s basketball coach Matt McCall in last year’s game.

The game will start at 6:30 p.m. Whipple expected everyone who is healthy to play at least a couple of series.

He was pleased with the team’s overall spring progress.

“Everybody got better from (veterans) Andrew Ford and Andy Isabella to (true freshman) Parker Ogle who just got here. It’s been our best spring,” Whipple said. “I appreciate the kids attitude it wasn’t the greatest weather.”

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage