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UMass wide receiver Marken Michel excited to be back from shoulder injury

AMHERST — After entering the season projected to be the University of Massachusetts’ top receiver, being forced to watch close losses to Miami (Ohio) and Ohio University on television wasn’t easy for sophomore Marken Michel.

“It was real hard. Being in the dorms and seeing my team on TV, of course you’re excited for your teammates, but there’s a burn inside you to be out there helping your brothers, that’s what hurts the most,” said Michel, who suffered a shoulder injury in the second game of the season.

Michel was healthy enough to return and make three catches for 31 yards in UMass’ Oct. 6 loss at Western Michigan. He said the timing of last weekend’s bye week came at a good spot for him.

“The bye gave me a chance to get extra rehab to help get my shoulder better,” said Michel, who expected to be a full strength when UMass hosts Bowling Green Saturday at noon. “When I got back on the field, it felt great. It felt like the season started over for me. I just kept telling myself I’ve been out for three weeks. It’s like earning my stripes again, putting my best foot forward.”

During his time off, senior wide receiver Deion Walker, a Notre Dame transfer, and freshman quarterback Mike Wegzyn have improved.

“Deion has been playing phenomenal. I’m going to try to add on to it to make our team successful,” Michel said. “Mike has definitely improved. But I knew he was a great quarterback. It just took him a little time to come through. We know how good he is.”

Wegzyn returned the praise.

“You can really depend on him. He’s one of our top receivers,” Wegzyn said. “He’s looked great in practice. I’m excited to have him back.”

UMass coach Charley Molnar saw no signs of rust with Michel.

“He’s done very well. He’s catching the ball very well. It doesn’t look like he’s missed a beat,” Molnar said. “He’s confident. He’s one of the best leaders on the football team. I expect nothing but big, big things from Marken for the rest of the year and into his future.”

Michel went out of his way to praise team trainer Jenn Brodeur.

“My shoulder feels great. Jenn has really helped me a lot to get better,” he said. “Without a good trainer, you’re stuck. She’s been on me to go to rehab.”

HAWAII TO AMHERST — Depending on the status of senior guard Nick Speller, who is among the Minutemen suspended for academic issues, true freshman Matt Sparks could be making his first career start Saturday after playing quite a few snaps against Western Michigan.

It’s been a year of firsts for Sparks, a native of Mililani, Hawaii, who had never before been to the Northeast, seen leaves change color or been in weather this cold.

“I just bought my first winter jacket online,” said the 6-foot-4, 275-pounder who doesn’t turn 18 until Nov. 25.

Because of his age Sparks, a graduate of the Punahou School, isn’t old enough to vote, which denies him a chance to participate in an election that features fellow Punahou alumnus and President Barack Obama. Sparks said because of Obama, everyone at his school closely followed the 2008 election when he was a freshman. He’s still not especially interested in politics, but he’s keeping track as best he can.

“I didn’t follow it too closely, but it’s more interesting because he’s in it,” Sparks said. “I just don’t have the time to play closer attention.”

He paid close attention to UMass when former Hawaii offensive coordinator Nick Rolovich, who was briefly the Minutemen’s offensive coordinator, recruited him. Even after Rolovich left to become the O-coordinator at Nevada, Sparks still wanted to be a Minuteman.

“He was the one that got me interested in it, but I really liked it,” Sparks said. “I wanted something different. I never experienced anything but Hawaii.”

NO BLANCHFLOWER — Junior tight end Rob Blanchflower was absent from practice again. Molnar stayed hopeful that he’d be available Saturday.

“Hopefully he’ll practice tomorrow,” Molnar said. “He’s going to see the doctor after practice (Tuesday). We’re hoping for clearance.”

TIGER FAN — The American League Championship Series has added a little rivalry for some of the Minutemen. Wegzyn, who grew up in suburban Detroit, and roommate Hafis Williams, an Elizabeth, N.J. native, have opposite rooting interests.

“I am a Tigers fan. I have to call back to my family to talk about it with them,” Wegzyn said. “There’s a lot of Yankee fans around here. So far we have the upper hand on them. Hafis has been cheering on Raul (Ibañez) and all them, but so far I’m winning that battle.”

Molnar, who grew up a Yankees fan, said he hasn’t thought much about the postseason.

“We don’t have time to talk baseball,” he said. “Is it even the playoffs right now?”

MISCELLANEOUS — According to ESPN Boston, UMass has offered a scholarship to Jonathan Thomas, a 5-foot-11, 195-pound Peabody resident who attends St. John’s Prep in Danvers. Thomas has 987 yards rushing on 110 carries and nine touchdowns this year.

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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