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Three linemen, four walk-ons join UMass football team

Three scholarship offensive linemen and four recruited walk-ons started class Tuesday, making them officially members of the University of Massachusetts football team.

With Quinton Sales, Stephan Milhim and Nick Speller graduating and John Wallace transferring, the Minutemen needed to add size and depth on the line and they appear to have done so.

“Offensive line is the hardest position for a true freshman football player to get on the field and do well. Having these guys here during spring practice will give them a leg up. They certainly won’t feel like true freshmen when they show up in August,” UMass coach Charley Molnar said. “They’ll have a real idea of what it takes to play offensive line. I think it will be a great asset for us.”

Josh Bruns is a 6-foot-5, 285-pound lineman from Bullhead City, Ariz., who played the last two years at Glendale (Ariz.) Community College. Molnar said he’s not planning to recruit junior college players very often, but he thought his team’s needs at offensive line and the caliber of player and student Bruns is, was worth making an exception.

Glendale “played some high level junior college teams and he was matched up against some excellent players,” Molnar said. “That will give him an edge that these other guys don’t have. We’re not a junior-college recruiting football team. But it was such a position of need and he was a very, very good student, very mature. We were fortunate to get him.”

Cameron Mock is the class’ largest addition at 6-7, 305 pounds. The Clayton, N.M., native signed with UMass last year, but suffered a knee injury in a car accident last summer and chose to rehabilitate at home rather than start his college career injured. Molnar expected him to be cleared to participate in spring practice.

“We thought it was better for him to stay at home and work on his rehab,” Molnar said. “From all indications so far, everything looks good and I think he’s going to be cleared to be full go. We’re glad to have him.”

Sam Zeff, a 6-5, 277-pound Montclair, N.J., product, graduated high school early to get a head start on college, a decision that impressed Molnar.

“The spring time of your senior year, as we can all remember, is probably the best three months of high school,” Molnar said. “Everybody gets into cruise control and enjoys the last time together with their friends. For him to give that up to be here training and working hard at his craft and taking a full load of college classes, he’s really taken quite a step to give himself a chance to play for us this fall.”

The walk-ons include Zeff’s high school teammate, quarterback Nate Crutchfield. The 6-2, 200-pound passer led Montclair to a state championship while throwing for 1,300 yards and 18 touchdowns. Crutchfield also graduated early.

The other three walk-ons are Massachusetts natives. DuVaughn Beckford will sit out this season after transferring from Division II Assumption College in Worcester. The 6-foot, 180-pound defensive back from Nantucket will have two years of eligibility remaining beginning in 2014.

Klysmann Afonso was spending a year of postgraduate at Jireh Prep in North Carolina and left early to enroll at UMass. The 5-9, 175-pound wide receiver is from Medford.

Danvers native Nick Valles graduated last year after rushing for 1,012 yards as a senior.

PAGEL LIKELY DONE — Molnar thought that quarterback Kellen Pagel, who sat out last season with concussion symptoms, was likely done playing football.

“I don’t think his future is going to be playing football at the University of Massachusetts,” Molnar said. “We’re going to have one more consultation with the medical staff when I get back (from recruiting) when everybody is all together and try to come up with a course of action for Kellen. It doesn’t look like being on the field is the best option for him.”

Molnar said Pagel, who was unavailable for comment, had other options.

“He’s a competitive guy. I think he’s going to look to play another sport (baseball) while he’s here at UMass,” Molnar said. “I’ve also extended an opportunity to join our staff as a student coach and give him a role where he can lend his experience to help our younger football players.”

DEPARTURES — Ryan Carter, who was a reserve defensive back and special teams player for most of his UMass career, will forgo his final year of eligibility and graduate this spring.

Ryan Delaire, Wallace, Greg Hilliard, Brian Dowling and Jamar Smith are all attempting to transfer.

COACHING STAFF — Molnar said he had a good idea who will replace departed coaches Mike Kruczek (offensive coordinator)and Ron Hudson (offensive line), but he wasn’t ready to announce who they would be. It’s possible that Molnar will be his own offensive coordinator and that he’d hire a quarterback coach.

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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