AMHERST — Adam Breneman is trying not to think about it, but he knows it’s coming.
When the season is over, the UMass junior tight end will have to decide whether to return to school for his final year of eligibility or declare for the NFL draft.
“It has obviously crossed my mind, but I haven’t thought about it too in depth. I don’t even know how that process works. I’m just trying to take it one game at a time,” Breneman said. “When the time comes to see what the future holds, I’ll cross that bridge. I’m just trying to stay focused on the last two games. If anyone knows that things can change in heartbeat, it’s me. I appreciate each day I’m out here playing football.”
Less than a year ago, the decision wasn’t college or pro, but whether to keep playing at all. Knee injuries wiped out all of his 2014 season and most of his 2015 season at Penn State. He briefly walked away from the game during the spring, but coming back was always in the back of his mind.
The chance to play for coach Mark Whipple and new quarterback Andrew Ford was all the motivation he needed to resume his career at UMass. Breneman played with Whipple’s son Austin at Penn State and with Ford in high school.
Breneman, a one time top recruit, has had exactly the year he needed to rebuild his draft stock. He’s been healthy which was the biggest question he faced. His game has shown no signs of being hampered by any lingering effects of the injury. Barring any problems in the season’s final two weeks, he said any medical examination would show a healed player.
“It’s been good. I didn’t really doubt that I’d be able to get past the injury that was bothering me at Penn State. I’ve felt good about my body since then. My ability to stay healthy hasn’t been a concern since I’ve been here, which is refreshing,” Breneman said. “When it comes to the next level that’ll be a question mark. I just have to prove to teams that I’m healthy. I haven’t missed practice and that’s obviously important. Knock on wood, hopefully it stays that way. I don’t think there’s anything a team is going to see now that will concern them.
“I missed games in another season, but I don’t think that’s anything I can’t overcome with, god-willing 12 healthy games this season,” he added. “I think I’ll be asked about it, but I don’t think it’ll be a huge problem.”
At 6-foot-4, 252 pounds, Breneman has typical NFL size for his position and he’s been one of the nation’s top pass-catching tight ends. He entered last week’s bye week with 58 catches for 699 yards and seven touchdowns. In all three stats, he was ranked either first or second among tight ends in the Bowl Subdivision.
Breneman’s put up the numbers in the face of opposing defenses that have spent large portions of their preparation focusing on stopping him. On Monday he was selected as one of eight semifinalists for the Mackey Award, which annually goes to the nation’s top tight end.
Because he’s neither a senior nor a player who has declared for the draft, there’s limited public evaluation of his professional potential available.
Breneman will turn 22 before the draft and he already has a business management degree from Penn State. He said he’ll consult with his family and Mark Whipple, who has worked in the NFL, when the time comes.
“It will be a tough decision when it gets to that point. I really haven’t thought about it very much. I have two games left I’m trying to focus on. When it gets to that point I think Coach Whipple will be a good resource. I know he’ll keep it honest with me,” Breneman said. “Getting my MBA is something I’ve always wanted to do, but having my undergrad degree is great because it allowed me to transfer here and play right away. Whether or not I’m here next year I can finish getting my MBA.”
He said UMass has revitalized him as a football player.
“The opportunities I’ve had here to not only play football and be a part of this program, but also to be in Isenberg and start my MBA has been really good. I’m really appreciative of that,” he said. “It’s been awesome. It’s been great playing for Coach Whipple. I’ve learned a lot from him. I’ve grown a lot, physically and mentally as a football player. The game is kind of slowing down for me a lot. Playing in a pro-style system and lining up in different spots and doing a lot of different things have been great. It’s helped me become more of a complete player.”
The deadline to declare for the draft is Jan. 16.
Matt Vautour can be reached at email@example.com. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage