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UMass football players stunned by stunt, scholarships

Still, Maynes thought he might be arrested and if he was, his college football career might be over on that August afternoon in preseason.

“I was thinking that there’s no way I did anything wrong and that this is the worst way I could get arrested because now I’m going to get kicked off the team because it’s in front of everybody,” said Maynes, who looked scared as he walked to the front of the room.

“I was trying to wrack my brain as I walked up there trying to think what I had done wrong,” said O’Connor, who appeared similarly worried. “We had been with the coaches for a couple weeks. I was like I don’t think I’ve done anything, at least that I know of.”

The officers handed each player a manila envelope. Unbeknownst to them, as they tore open what they thought were subpoenas, an image appeared on the projection screen at the front of the room, showing the same thing the two players were reading:

“UMass Football 2012

“Coach Molnar is awarding you a full-athletic scholarship for the 2012-13 academic calender year for your hard work and dedication on and off the field!

“Congratulations Daniel Maynes - Rob O’Connor.”

Their teammates broke out in applause. University of Massachusetts coach Charley Molnar’s face, which had been frozen in a faux look of concern, erupted in a wide smile. He grabbed a still-stunned Maynes and hugged him and then pulled O’Connor in for a three-way embrace. As the players turned around, their teammates rushed to the front of the room and swarmed them, hugging, backslapping and cheering for the school’s two newest scholarship athletes.

“It felt like 10,000 pounds of weight just came off my back,” Maynes said Wednesday. “It felt great.”

Molnar, who was proud of the idea and his acting performance during the stunt, didn’t know that the football team’s video coordination staff had posted their film of it on YouTube on Oct. 16.

But whether it was the cleverness of the stunt or its happy ending, the video seemed to resonate with people. Eight days after it was posted, the video was still circulating around Twitter and Facebook, and over 77,700 people had viewed it on YouTube. It has run on newscasts across the state and been embedded into sports blogs around the nation, including on USA Today’s website. Maynes and O’Connor were filmed Wednesday for an appearance on ESPNU.

“It was very surprising that there was so much attention. I thought it was a good little in-house story when it happened because it went off so well. That was a point of pride for me,” Molnar said, smiling at the memory. “Beyond that I never expected everyone else to see the same thing in the moment that we saw.”

The idea came to Molnar during one of his morning runs.

“I was looking for a new way to get the players’ attention and to make it memorable,” he said. “It was at the end of summer camp. We had a lot of good team meetings, but you get nervous at the end that they’re not going to listen. They’re too tired. It had been a good camp. What could I do to put some icing on the cake? I thought about it all through summer camp. And on one of my runs I pieced it together.”

He was excited to see the players open the envelopes.

“I equate it with Christmas. You go out and you pick out your kids’ presents and buy them and put them under the tree, yet when they open the presents, you’re just as surprised as they are. The feeling that I had when they opened those subpoenas I was as excited as they were. I thought ‘Why is that?’ I knew what they were getting,” he said. “But it was truly a moment where it was as good to give as it was to receive seeing their reaction.”

Molnar said the campus policemen played their roles perfectly.

“They showed up the minute they said they were going to show up,” he said. “Everything was on cue. They were as serious as can be. It worked out beyond my expectations.”

The players have been stunned by the attention.

“It’s been pretty fun I guess. I didn’t know they were going to put the video up. I didn’t know it was recorded,” said Maynes, a sophomore defensive lineman from Waltham. “It was probably one of the bigger moments of my life so far. I haven’t watched the whole thing. I feel kind of embarrassed watching myself on camera like that. There’s a lot of people out of left field, who I hadn’t talked to since high school, contacted me on Facebook.”

O’Connor said if you watch the video closely you can tell that something is up.

“You notice some things looking back that were a little off. But when you’re in the moment, you’re pretty scared,” he said. “It’s definitely been cool. A lot of my friends and family called me up.”

O’Connor thought his football career ended at Westborough High School. He’d gotten some Division II and III recruiting interest but wanted to attend a big school. He gave up football and enrolled at Clemson as an economics major. After two years at the South Carolina school, O’Connor decided to switch to accounting. He transferred to UMass and walked on to the team last year. It never occurred to him he could get a scholarship.

“I’m just grateful to Coach that he saw I was working hard and wanted to honor that,” the junior linebacker said.

Both players said the stunt showed them Molnar in a different light.

“Coach is a hardass so you don’t think he’s fooling around,” O’Connor said.

Added Maynes, “It completely showed a different side of Coach. I’ve only seen serious Coach Molnar until that point. That’s why I took it so seriously. I thought I’m really getting arrested right now. He got me real good.”

ROSTER NOTES — Senior offensive lineman Nick Speller did not return to practice Wednesday and will miss his third straight game due to academic suspension.

“He still has another hurdle to jump through and he did not get that done,” Molnar said. “I’m going to have to put him on hold for an extra week.”

Senior defensive lineman Galen Clemons passed another progression concussion test. Barring a setback, he’ll play Saturday.

Stanley Andre, Quinton Sales and Colter Johnson will be UMass’ game captains for Saturday’s 7 p.m. game at Vanderbilt.

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

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